Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
In our view
There are times when, in the heat of the moment, people say things that either undermine their credibility or come back to haunt them.
In what may have been her last public appearance as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton strenuously defended the actions of the Obama administration in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the Benghazi consulate and accepted responsibility for security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
She parried the questions from the panel of House and Senate members admirably. She said she had sought additional funds from Congress for diplomats working on a shoestring, but that those requests had either been delayed or denied.
But it was her words, in one angry retort, that ultimately may come back to haunt her.
During a pointed exchange with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, in which he pressed her for details about the reporting of the attack on the consulate, Clinton responded:
"What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
Clinton rightly argued that the issue now is to ensure the safety of State Department people assigned to areas of risk.
Her words, however, have become a flashpoint. Critics immediately leapt. A Twitter hashtag #whatdifferencedoesitmake attracted scores of responses.
Clinton was attempting to dismiss Johnson's line of questioning. Indeed, his questions previously have been answered by acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who said that analysts within the CIA, not political operatives, changed the wording of the unclassified intelligence summary that initially blamed an anti-Islam video for the attack. That was the statement U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice was given.
To critics, however, Clinton's words suggested that she was dismissing the people who died.
She wasn't. She greeted the families of those who died when the bodies were returned to this country and, in testimony Wednesday, she became emotional when discussing that moment.
The Benghazi attack is reminiscent of the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines and haunted the Reagan administration. The issue then, as now, involved lax security.
Clinton is correct: The job now is to do everything to prevent similar attacks from happening again.
But Wednesday's hearing is less likely to be remembered for what is being done to protect Americans overseas than for those five unfortunate words: What difference does it make?