Parker: Paging Sidney Blumenthal
WASHINGTON -- Who the blast is Sidney Blumenthal?
Doubtless many watching Thursday's House select committee hearing on Benghazi must have wondered the same. This obviously important person's name was mentioned so many times, it was challenging to remember that Hillary Clinton, not he, was the one on trial, for lack of a more-accurate word.
Short answer: Blumenthal is a longtime Clinton family friend and confidant going back 30 years. Nicknamed "Sid Vicious," think of him as the Clintons' Lee Atwater.
Longer answer: Blumenthal is a former journalist who has worked for the Clinton Foundation and for Media Matters, the watchdog group that savages journalists who fail to fully grasp the Clintons' pivotal importance to humanity's salvation.
More to the committee's interest, Blumenthal was busy with Libya-related emails to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the same time he was advising business interests in Libya. His correspondence seemed to be of monumental importance to committee Chair Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who repeatedly questioned Clinton about Blumenthal's emails. Did she solicit them? Did she read them? Why did she respond that he should continue emailing her?
None of this was remotely relevant to the alleged purpose of the hearing – to find out once and for all what happened before, during and after that terrible night in Benghazi when four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed. The real purpose was as obvious as the shine on Gowdy's nose – to discredit Clinton both as secretary of state and as a leading presidential candidate – and, if possible, to make her head explode. All the questions about Blumenthal's emails ultimately resulted in a rather wispy point: That he had Clinton's personal email address and Stevens, also a friend, did not.
The only "news" to emerge from the hearing was email corroboration that Clinton knew immediately after the attacks that they were committed by terrorists and not by street demonstrators reacting to a dumb video, as initially and serially reported. This fact, now indisputable, suggests a range of explanations, from deliberate deceit to incompetence at the highest levels.
Republicans have focused on a narrative that is too ghastly to imagine. One theory is that Clinton and the Obama administration didn't want the world to know that their Libya mission had failed, so they blamed it on the anti-Islam video then in circulation. More horrid is the suggestion that Clinton purposely denied extra security to Stevens lest her role in directing our Libya policy be tarnished.
People will believe what suits them. But the more probable truth concerning Benghazi is that the early story was a deception with a purpose, which was to buy time until the administration and the CIA could figure out how to manage the crisis without exposing the intelligence agency's operation in the area.
There may be no satisfactory explanation for why Stevens wasn't provided more security after multiple requests or why those requests never reached Clinton's desk. She testified that security requests were handled by experts further down the line and noted she had more than 200 ambassadors in her charge. But Libya was special by virtue of Clinton's role in molding our policy there, as was Stevens, whom Clinton handpicked to wade into the fire.
She has accepted responsibility both for what happened and for what didn't work systemically under her watch, which is about all she can do short of stepping into a live volcano. And though tropes such as "terrible things happen in terrible places" and "mistakes were made" bring no solace to the bereaved, they are nonetheless true in theaters of chaos.
Speaking of which, whatever Republicans hoped to accomplish in the hearing, they fell embarrassingly short. You don't have to like Clinton to objectively observe that the hearing was little more than a prolonged reiteration of known bungling characterized by contempt-coated questions delivered with near-hatred. At times, I thought lasers might suddenly burst from Ohio Republican Jim Jordan's eyes and incinerate Clinton on the spot.
At the end of a very long day, most people know what they think of Clinton and now they know what can be known about Benghazi. Takeaways from the hearing, however, accrue to candidate Clinton's benefit. She displayed the mental discipline of a Jedi, the physical stamina of a boxer, and the patience of a basilisk, a fair imitation of which she maintained through spells of bickering among committee members. Finally, any pretense that the committee and hearing weren't politically motivated was shattered by the Republican's strategy itself – yet another deception with a purpose that backfired.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.