Hillary Rodham Clinton is many things, but spontaneous and subtle? No. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s profuse mea culpa for his staffers’ appalling stupidity regarding the George Washington Bridge prompted some uncomfortable comparisons to the non-apologies of Democrats, and Clinton — well, you can hear the wheels turn like church bells clanging. She or someone in her cast of advisers must have thought the comparison to her own evasions, lack of expressed remorse and downright falsehoods concerning Benghazi were a bit troubling.
In a safe setting, with yet another of her corporate hosts, the National Automobile Dealers Association (Greens, are you really going to settle for this gal?), Clinton offered up a remarkably hollow comment on Benghazi, saying it was the incident that she most regretted.
"My biggest, you know, regret is what happened in Benghazi... It was a terrible tragedy, losing four Americans, two diplomats and — now it’s public, so I can say — two CIA operatives. Losing an ambassador like Chris Stevens, who was one of our very best and had served in Libya and across the Middle East and spoke Arabic."
With her syntax on the fritz, she stumbled on: "I mean, you know, you make these choices based on imperfect information. And you make them to, as we say, the best of your ability. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be unforeseen consequences, unpredictable twists and turns."
"Regret" is such an odd, underwhelming word. You send regrets for not being able to attend a wedding. You regret having to let an employee go in slow times. But the murder of four Americans, including the brutal killing of an ambassador — the first U.S. ambassador slain in more than 30 years — would, you think, provoke a stronger sentiment.
Moreover, if you didn’t know better, you would never have guessed from Clinton’s spiel that she was actually in charge of the State Department at the time. Her non-apology apology not only offered no admission of fault or personal responsibility, it made her sound like the victim. Incomplete information? Yeah, who knew Stevens was pleading for help and that Benghazi had become a terrorist haven?
If a real newsperson had been there, a panoply of tough follow-up questions could have been asked:
What is it you regret? Did you do or not do something you should have?
Do you feel something more, like embarrassment or guilt?
Have you ever apologized directly to the families of those killed?
If you wanted to get to the bottom of this, why was Cheryl Mills dispatched to Benghazi to instruct State employees not to talk to visiting congressmen?
If you wanted to find out what happened, why say, "What difference at this point does it make?"
Why didn’t you submit to questioning by the Accountability Review Board?
Why didn’t you fire those directly responsible for security in Benghazi?
What system did you have in place to flag urgent cables for your attention?
When other countries pulled their people out of Libya, what actions did you take to protect your employees?
To whom did you report that the Libyan "victory" was deteriorating? Did you ever discuss this with the president? Did you try to reach him the night of the attack?
Why did Susan Rice, and not you, go on Sunday talk shows after the attack?
Why did you not caution the president and/or his staff that statements up through Sept. 25 (including his United Nations speech) tying the attack to a video were wrong and misleading?
Was there a political reason for downplaying the al-Qaida connection?
If you knew the attack was terrorism from the get-go, why did you point a finger at an anti-Muslim video at the ceremony receiving the caskets?
Were you alert to the spread of al-Qaida in North Africa? If so, what did you do about it while in office?
Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference, as she said, if Clinton were retiring from public life. But someone who wants to be commander in chief needs to answer these and other questions fully — until there are no more questions. Really, if she could not anticipate and be candid about terrorism in Libya, how is she going to deal with an entire planet of inconvenient facts?
These questions go to the central problem with her record: Was she inattentive, deliberately deceptive or simply unable to stir the president to act responsibly against jihadists — or some combination thereof? She should be careful in her answer — former defence secretary Robert Gates and maybe others were taking notes along the way.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.