The grilling of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on lessons from Benghazi proves that little has changed in the partisan dynamic in Congress since the election. Each party continues to blame the other for the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Democrats at Wednesday's Senate and House hearings focused on Republicans scrimping on resources for diplomatic security.
For their part, Republicans believe money is being misspent. For example, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, suggested that the State Department should abandon climate change initiatives to spend more on diplomatic security.
But no one in either party addressed the increasing "Fortress America" model of diplomacy. If the Benghazi outpost 400 miles from the U.S. Embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had higher walls and a half dozen more guards, would the outcome have been different?
Longtime foreign correspondent Robert Worth took on that issue in a November piece in the New York Times Magazine titled, "Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?" In the past, Worth notes, the death of an ambassador would be seen as "the occasional price of a noble but risky profession."
He quotes career diplomat Ryan Crocker: "I was an ambassador six times, and three of my predecessors were assassinated. It was the cost of doing business in dangerous zones. Congress accepted it; the public accepted it. The top priority was getting the job done."
Clinton played both sides of the risk-versus-bunker tug-of-war without taking a strong stance for either. Diplomats, she said, "accept a level of risk." They "cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs." But we must provide the resources to "reduce the risks they face."
To her credit, Clinton in her last appearance before Congress as secretary of state, refused to get into the petty game of who said what on Sunday TV shows in the days after the Benghazi attack.
And she dismissed micromanaging of U.S. embassies. Ambassadors do not have their itineraries reviewed by higher-ups; cables on security requests don't go above the assistant secretary level.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., didn't like that: "Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post."
Unfortunately, missed in this blame game is what Clinton had to say on what was really going on. The American mission in Benghazi was trying to "track down and find and recover" weapons seized by jihadists from Libyan arsenals after the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. That proliferation is "the source of one of our biggest threats" in the region, including current events in Algeria, Mali and Syria.
The real question is: How much risk are Americans willing to tolerate for diplomats to operate effectively in high-threat places? That question remains unanswered as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today considers the nomination of Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, to be the new U.S. secretary of state.