Editorial: Benghazi committee chooses to miss the point

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Contrary to what Hillary Clinton’s staunchest defenders might say, Republicans investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks have found a nub of a legitimate complaint.

It appears plausible that Clinton, then Secretary of State, publicly blamed an incendiary film for triggering the attacks on the American diplomatic mission while she privately blamed al-Queda — for a couple of days, anyway.

In the fog of war — that moment when nothing is certain — it is entirely possible Clinton and the State Department entertained both explanations. But when for public consumption Clinton pointed to the film rather than the terrorist group, she may have been engaging in political spin. It is not an unfair suspicion. Her boss, President Obama, was touting his anti-terrorist credentials in his run for reelection.

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Unfortunately for the Republicans looking to trash Clinton — and that is entirely the point of this latest House committee investigation into Benghazi — that sole possible bad move by Clinton matters little in the scheme of things. It changed nothing. Our nation’s actions in Libya before and after the attack would have been precisely the same. The four Americans killed would be no less dead.

There is zero evidence, despite seven previous Benghazi investigations and 11 hours of grilling by the committee Thursday, that Clinton was negligent in providing security at the mission in the days before the attack, or in the decisions she and the White House made in response to the attacks. That remains the heart of the matter.

A more worthy subject of this congressional hearing would have been an exploration of the limits of American influence in hostile areas of the world, given the lessons of Benghazi. As president, Clinton seemed to signal, she would be more of an interventionist than Obama.

“America must lead in a dangerous world, and our diplomats must continue representing us in dangerous places,” Clinton said in her opening statement, sounding more like a John McCain than a Barack Obama. “We have learned the hard way; when America is absent, especially from unstable places, there are consequences… Retreat from the world is not an option.”

In the Middle East, where the toppling of cruel dictators in Iraq and Libya has led to even greater chaos and violence — witness the rise of ISIS — is greater American military intervention the best course of action? Or would our nation, once again, be overestimating its ability to bring order and freedom to the world?

That is a question well worth agonizing over.

Instead, we’ve got a witchhunt.

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