Six Key Takeaways from Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Hearings

January 23, 2013

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified Wednesday in a lengthy set of hearings on the Benghazi attacks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She spoke repeatedly of a growing jihadist threat in the region, deficiencies in the lead-up to and aftermath of the attack at the U.S. mission, and the administration's role in addressing both. Here are six key takeaways from the testimony:

1. Clinton acknowledged the 'spreading jihadist threat'

The secretary of state emphasized the "global movement" at work in a post-Arab Spring Middle East and North Africa in her remarks to the Senate:

"We now face a spreading jihadist threat," Clinton said. "We have driven a lot of the operatives out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, killed a lot of them, including [Osama] Bin Laden."

"But this is a global movement," Clinton said. "We can kill leaders, but until we help establish strong democratic institutions, until we do a better job with values and relationships, we will be faced with this level of instability." [...]

"This is a great opportunity as well as a serious threat to our country," Clinton said, referring to the Arab Spring. "It’s not going to be easy. They [these new governments] have no experience with democracy, they don’t have any real experience among the leaders in running countries and doing security."

2. Clinton lost her cool: 'What difference, at this point, does it make?'

An exchange over the talking points delivered by Ambassador Susan Rice between Clinton and Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) grew heated Wednesday, culminating in the secretary of state announcing, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

3. No one has been fired in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack

Four officials have been removed from their jobs and put on administrative leave, according to Clinton, but further action cannot be taken because, according to federal law, "unsatisfactory leadership is not satisfactory for a breach of duty," Clinton said. "I have put forth to the Congress and Senate to fix that problem going forward."

4. Clinton said she 'was not involved' in the creation of administration talking points

Clinton said she "was not focused on talking points," and was instead occupied the ongoing violent protests at other U.S. facilities in the immediate wake of the attacks. She also said she did not select Rice to deliver the administration's line on the attacks.

5. Clinton said there was no real time video of the attack

The secretary of state said video of the attack on Sept. 11, 2012 was not viewed until days after the attack.

6. Clinton made the case for 'bolstering' democracy as a defense against AQIM

The secretary of state made a number of statements about robust American presence to combat Islamic extremism, including this statement about the current struggle in Mali:

CLINTON: We are in for a struggle. But it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven. People say to me all the time, "Well, AQIM hasn’t attacked the United States." Well, before 9/11/2001, we hadn’t been attacked on our homeland since I guess the War of 1812 and Pearl Harbor. This is not only a terrorist syndicate, it is a criminal enterprise. So make no mistake about it, we’ve got to have a better strategy and I would hope we’d have not only a strategy that understands, you know, making it possible for these governments to defend themselves better, for people to understand and agree with us that these terrorists are not in any way representative of their values, but that we can bolster democracy and try to give these Arab revolutions a real chance to succeed.