Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Testimony and the Men Who Fear Her
By Anita Finlay on January 24, 2013
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave five and a-half hours of patient and thorough testimony before the Senate and House yesterday regarding the events surrounding the tragic deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. Not surprisingly, Wesley Pruden of The Washington Times published a smear piece entitled "Hillary’s Last Hurrah". He offered a photograph of the one moment she became frustrated with Republican Senator Johnson of Wisconsin, who kept interrupting her. Bumper stickers are already being made up misrepresenting, truncating and mis-characterizing her answer to him. The mockery and Hillary-hate has begun once again. She was characterized in other articles as "teary," "emotional," "defiant," "combative" and "fierce." Hmmm.
Also, Pruden’s choice of an unflattering, combative photo of Clinton for his story is an example of what Professor Kathleen Jamieson referred to as “visual vilification” – reinforcing an uncomfortable image in the minds of voters to render the subject poisonous. He wrote that “the old Hillary is back.” But why would the author do this? Fearing Hillary’s formidability as a presidential candidate for 2016 is as good an answer as any.
Pruden also accused her of “shouting” and “screaming” throughout the hearing. Hardly. Since I watched the entirety of her testimony, let me now testify that the opposite is true. Senior FOX News Correspondent Brit Hume was honest enough to note that she dominated and was masterful, eating the lunch of anyone who tried to get the best of her. But it was not supposed to be a contest. These much anticipated hearings were about something far more grave than politicking or jockeying for position, yet ultimately, turned out to be pointless – except to the extent that the more reasonable players in both parties would implement the recommendations made by both Clinton and the Accountability Review Board to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
As Mr. Hume pointed out, the five minute per person question and answer structure prevented anyone from getting into any detailed line of questioning or getting to the bottom of much of anything. That structure can only be blamed on Congress itself and is not of the witness’ choosing.
Throughout this long day, I noticed that many of the Republicans pressing Mrs. Clinton for answers – which they had every right to do – would instead use their time to grandstand and try to make a name for themselves. In the alternative, some used as much of their allotted five minutes speechifying to make Clinton and the State Department look bad, without giving her time to actually answer their charges before the rules required that they move to a question from the opposing party.
Democrats were in the main deferential to Clinton, using part of their time to thank her, even celebrate her service as Secretary of State.Their questions were more of an opportunity to illuminate the complexities of her job and the situation under discussion, certainly to help protect her and the administration for which she has been a loyal soldier. Clinton did her best to not point fingers or throw anyone under the bus and contrary to The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd’s earlier accusations, refused to trash Ambassador Susan Rice. Clinton said only that she was not in charge of developing talking points that were used by Rice or other administration officials when addressing national news shows.
The hearings taught me not only about the impressive depth and breadth of Hillary’s knowledge and in some cases, her unfathomable responsibility, pace and daily challenges – but I also learned much about the character of those questioning the Secretary.
While Freshman Republican Senator Marco Rubio asked pointed questions of Secretary Clinton, he held himself with the dignity and respect appropriate to his office – and hers. But Freshman Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky won the prize for rudeness, disgracing himself by behaving more as a belligerent punk than a man who had been elected to high office. He said “if he were president” he would have fired her. Oh really. Then it is fortunate he is not president. After only two years tenure in the Senate, for a man to pretend he knows more or is in any way the professional equal of a woman who has given a lifetime of service to her country was as pathetic as it was offensive.
Clearly, Mr. Paul must have been twitter bombed, because by last night, he had already backed off his initial statements – which not only insulted Secretary Clinton, but made the outrageous claim that Benghazi was “the worst tragedy since 9/11.” He seemed to have forgotten the intervening Iraq War where over 4,000 of our brave soldiers and many more thousands of civilians had been killed. He did his backpedaling in front of Wolf Blitzer of CNN. It is doubtful Mrs. Clinton (or the American people) will hear an apology. His initial statement, which I suggest you listen to in its entirety, shows a man wholly ignorant of the workings of state and the restrictions under which Clinton and the State Department operate.
Senator John McCain was likewise belligerent with Senator Clinton, given their long standing friendship and mutual respect. He complained about what he called her “false answers”. UPI offered a summary of the back and forth in both hearings which you can read here. Senator McCain continued his railing, stating…
“[T]here were plenty of warnings leading up to the attack on the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but "with all these warnings, we didn't have a single Defense Department" force to come to the aid of the consulate in the event of an attack.”
After the morning session, C-Span aired several phone reactions to the Senate hearings (I heard these as well) and David Edwards of Raw Story reports. First from Sarah from Sterling, Virginia, a Democrat:
“As a former member of the Foreign Service, I thought that Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. John McCain made complete asses of themselves, if I can use that word,” Sarah volunteered. “They have no idea with regard to the status of forces agreement and to what the role of the U.S. Marine Corps is in embassies.”
Sarah went on to explain that she had been stationed in a Middle East country where American staff had only been provided one security guard by the host country.
“The State Department has no control over that unless there is a status of forces agreement that allows Marine security guards to step out of their comfort zone,” she continued.
“And Rand Paul has no idea, has no clue of what happens at an American embassy. I suggest that he change committees and go over to the Agriculture Committee, that’s where you can dish dirt. And that’s exactly what he did. He was a disgrace and he should not be on that committee.”
Natasha in Lansing, Michigan then called in to say the following:
“As a Republican, I am thoroughly embarrassed by the way they acted,” Natasha said. “And I guess it would be very appropriate to say, there’s no fool like an old fool, unless he happens to be a young fool. This woman who has worked so hard for our country and has donated, well, practically her health had — they had no business in talking that way to her.”
“For them to get up and grandstand, no wonder our Republican Party is going down the tubes when we have two people that act as foolish and ignorantly as these two did,” she added.
These two ladies said it better than I ever could. I appreciate Mr. Edwards putting their reactions to paper.
But I must say whatever their issues with John McCain, he is in a different class than Rand Paul. Mr. McCain has likewise served his country valiantly, first as a Navy officer, suffering torture as a POW, and then as a Senator with a near thirty-year tenure. He, along with Senators Lindsay Graham and Kelly Ayotte have been pounding their fists on the table since day one, looking to get answers on the tragedy and conflicting statements coming from Ambassador Susan Rice and the President regarding Benghazi. I suspect Senator McCain’s frustration emanates from his knowledge that since President Obama has been successfully re-elected, he knows he will never get to grill Obama, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, Leon Panetta, or any other senior official or advisor about what they knew and when they knew it. So Secretary Clinton got yelled at by “an angry spouse” taking it out on the closest person to him. That was likely as much satisfaction as he was going to get from the entire episode.
It is likewise fascinating that when Clinton tried to fall on her sword weeks after the tragedy of Benghazi, Senator McCain would have none of it – calling it “a laudable gesture” but noting that the responsibility rested with President Obama and his administration. Now that the election is over and she is once again “the frontrunner” for 2016, earning accolades far and wide, with many people all but demanding she again contest for the presidency, now he and the rest of the “loyal opposition” want her head on a stick.
Clearly, Republicans (mostly men, as only one Republican woman did any questioning) fear Hillary Clinton’s command and the possibility of running against her – with the exception of one Republican congressman from Arkansas, who said he wished she had won the primary in 2008…
When you have even former Heads of State Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and former Head of Security Tom Ridge, who have some understanding of the type of job Clinton does, come out to defend her, noting her "guts and class" -- these others are unlikely to get their way.
Here is a hot flash to those who would grandstand or try to take Hillary Clinton down with these hearings or use the deaths of these four men to blame or ruin her. As Clinton’s testimony makes clear, we are juggling so many difficult situations around the world and walking a tightrope with many countries in violent transition. The idea that a woman running an organization of 70,000 cannot even count on Senior Staff and has to make every decision and have her fingers in every single pie all by herself is preposterous. Is some of the fault with her? Yes. And she was the first (and basically only) person to take responsibility. President Obama did so at a presidential debate only retroactively once he was accused of “hiding behind her pantsuit” – and that was after his other “men”, VP Biden and Senior Advisor David Axelrod, had already gone on TV to throw her and the State Department under the bus.
Yet The National Journal offered an article as to why these events are unlikely to taint her excellent record in the long term.
There were botched security protocols in urgent need of fixing as we continue to face fluid and portable enemies that challenge our old ways of doing business and often evidence the creaky way our government moves. This may be as much to blame for the tragedy of Benghazi as any one person or persons. There is a lot more that happened, not only in the firefight, but in the President’s Situation Room that, unfortunately, we will never know about. That is an injustice but not one that should be laid at the Secretary’s door.
At the end of the day, Secretary Clinton has shown herself to have, as Republican Senator Lindsay Graham put it, “A work ethic second to none.” That fact, no matter what else is on the table here, is something the American people are likewise well aware of, which accounts for her 69% popularity as she steps down from office.
Echoing the sentiments of some on the Congressional panels yesterday, I can only hope she is not done and decides, after a long rest, to once more, step into public service, because if any of those railing at her yesterday were any indication – she is still the best we’ve got.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, now available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon -- 16 weeks at #1 in Women in Politics Books.
"Will Hillary run in 2016? And how can we elect a qualified female president without deconstructing the sexist narrative plaguing women who strive to break the highest, hardest glass ceiling? One woman's empowering journey provides the backdrop to this shocking exposé, traveling beyond Hillary Clinton's historic 2008 run to reveal the media's troubling influence over our electoral process and the brainwashing that does damage to us all."
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