Earlier this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before Congress on the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. Her testimony is late in coming as a result of health issues she had at the end of the 2012 calendar year, but the delay as served only to make it that much more anticipated. Finally, just two days after Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term, and with it already common knowledge that she will leave her post as SecState just as soon as Senator John Kerry is confirmed as her successor, Mrs. Clinton provided her testimony. It is easy to find transcripts of her testimony on line, or videos of the testimony, as well as, I am sure, countless commentaries and editorials on what she had to say. And while I have not read any of those, I am going to add one more of my own.
What the U.S. knew and did not know prior to and during the attacks, and how the U.S. did or did not respond to the situation in Benghazi, has been debated and analyzed and dissected and regurgitated repeatedly since the attacks, and I am not going to weigh in on that specifically. Rather, I am going to address a specific comment made by the Secretary in response to questions from the members of the Senate committee.
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, asked Mrs. Clinton about the motivations of the attack–about why the attack had occurred. Her response? “With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk who decided they’d go kill Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened.” While I do not completely disagree with the last part of that statement, what happened is largely already know. Sure, there may be some details and specifics that have not yet been finalized, but we know at least the broad strokes of what happened. What we do not know, what the Senate committee wanted to know, and, I suggest, what the American people want to know, is why did it happen, and could it have been prevented?
What really strikes me, though, is the absurdity of Mrs. Clinton’s question, “What difference at this point does it make?” I wonder if she really believes that? I cannot imagine the families of the victims believe it. I cannot imagine that Mrs. Clinton, or President Obama, or anyone else, really believes that either. It simply makes a smartalecky way to deflect answering the question.
Imagine applying that approach in other scenarios…
When a reckless driver hits a car and kills everyone in it, why not take the approach, “They’re all dead. What difference does it make why the accident happened?”
When a student who has shown an inability or unwillingness to apply himself to his studies suddenly aces an exam or writes the best essay the teacher has ever written, why not say, “He got every question right! What difference does it make how he did it?”
When someone with no job is suddenly driving a luxury SUV, who cares how it happened, let’s just appreciate and congratulate them on the new wheels.
Why investigate athletes who do the seemingly inhuman? Were they doping? Were there performance-enhancing drugs involved? “What difference does it make?”
I could surely provide more examples, and I am sure you can think of plenty of your own. The point is, the why is always important. It matters if the driver was drunk or high. It matters if the student cheated. It matters if someone stole money or a vehicle. It matters if athletes alter the playing field and have an unfair advantage. And in regard to Benghazi, it matters why the U.S. was blaming the snippet of a video on YouTube for the attacks. It matters why the requests for support were unanswered. It matters why the U.S. did not inspect the scene promptly.
So, contrary to what you might want to believe, or might want us to believe, Madame Secretary, it makes all the difference in the world. And if they have enough backbone to do their jobs, our elected officials will not stop asking the question until it has been answered.