As we conclude inauguration day festivities, it baffles me to no end as to why some folks are already looking ahead to the next presidential election cycle. If nothing else, this past election cycle has taught us that politics ultimately denigrates and divides us in a profound way. One issue that has been framed in just these terms is the upcoming congressional hearings on Benghazi, scheduled for later in the week, and their possible effect on Secretary Clinton’s plans for 2016.
While I couldn’t care less about Clinton’s political ambition (or lack thereof) for 2016, I do care very much about how these hearings will be perceived by both Clinton’s supporters and her detractors. I do not think these hearings will, in any way, tarnish her legacy as a public servant nor do I think these hearings merit the scorn some on the neoconservative right have recently bestowed on the secretary. When all is said and done, I think there will be at least five key things the public ought to take away from the hearings.
1. Foreign affairs are unpredictable.
While anti-American protests on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks probably didn’t catch anyone by surprise, the sheer scope of them undoubtedly did. One should recall that before the incident in Benghazi broke, the diplomatic outpost that was receiving the lion’s share of media (and American) attention was the one in Egypt.
2. The president and secretary of state do not and cannot control events around the world.
Nothing obscures this otherwise common-sense observation than the language we commonly use when referring to the Office of the Presidency (“Commander in Chief,” “Leader of the Free World,” etc.). The global influence the Office has exercised since 1941 has allowed over two generations of Americans, in spite of the struggles of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to view this role as "natural" rather than for what it is: a historical anomaly. It is worth remembering that it took the Executive branch roughly 10 years to track down Osama bin Laden. The world is a large and complex place and there is little the president, or the secretary of state, can actually “control.”
3. The tragedy in Benghazi holds little resonance with ordinary Americans and utterly failed the GOP in 2012 as a salient political issue with which to attack the Obama administration.
In light of the recent election, and our persistent real employment dearth, mounting public debt and declining purchasing power (i.e. inflation), this observation is rather self-evident. In addition, while Americans do not agree with the administration’s handling of the Benghazi tragedy, they also do not take the view that the administration deliberately misled the public.
4. Secretary Clinton’s political star has never been higher.
While one would expect the newly re-elected President Obama would have solid approval ratings, they pale in comparison to his secretary of state. Given her well deserved stature and 20 years of continuous public service, Secretary Clinton's career will end when she wants it to end. She has earned that right.
5. The tragedy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 masks the administration’s biggest blunder in its Libya policy: overthrowing Gaddafi in the first place.
While some may find it hard to believe, President Muammar Gaddafi was, at the time of his overthrow by the U.S., an ally in the "Global War on Terror." It is now clear the administration’s stated humanitarian objectives were not the only factor in Gaddafi’s overthrow.