Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will soon become Citizen Clinton once more. She'll rake in huge speaking fees, juicy book deals, corporate board seats and dozens more honorary doctoral degrees. But none of that can ever wash away what happened at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Last year, on 9/11, Secretary Clinton finally got that "3 a.m. phone call." Her failure to answer leaves a permanent black mark on her record.
Al-Qaida has made war on our State Department for over a decade - since the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. The department has had to learn how to defend its staff and facilities in combat zones from Iraq to Afghanistan. That background makes State's failure to address adequately the security risks in Libya all the more stunning.
Secretary Clinton's blindness to the magnitude of the department's failure was on display in her recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"Was it because of a protest or is it because of guys out for a walk one night and they decide they go kill some Americans?" she asked rhetorically, before adding: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"
It was like asking: "What's the difference between hitting a deer that bolts out in front of your car or running over some kids on a field trip because you're blind drunk." One is an accident; the other is a catastrophic failure of judgment.
The administration now acknowledges the assault in Benghazi was a deliberate, planned terrorist act. It is reasonable - indeed, necessary - to ask if State did everything reasonable to mitigate the risk.
We know there was no shortage of funds or other resources. Senior State Department officials have repeatedly testified there was no problem there - though some politicians continue to cry poverty on behalf of the administration.
Clearly, the problem was the department's failure to plan adequately before the attack and respond adequately once it began.
Seeing no difference between a riot and a raid also suggests Clinton doesn't understand the nature of the threat.
"Islamist terrorists," wrote my colleague Middle East scholar Jim Phillips, "are motivated to kill Americans not because of emotional reactions to alleged slights such as the questionable video on Mohammed, but because they seek to seize power and impose their Islamist totalitarian ideology on other Muslims."
Clinton just doesn't get that. Her testimony revealed a leader unapologetic for her failure to act or understand.
Worse, she showed no real interest in learning from the incident. Such knowledge could help her department better adapt to the emerging threats in the region.
But Clinton has disengaged herself from the Benghazi horror from the beginning. Immediately after the attack, the department surprised everyone by presenting a U.N. ambassador - a post irrelevant to the events - rather than the secretary herself as its official spokesperson for the tragedy. Later, and perhaps more shockingly, Clinton didn't even bother to testify before the Accountability Review Board she had commissioned to investigate the incident.
When challenged on her actions and non-actions at the hearing, Clinton launched an emotional counterattack. But demonstrating empathy with the fallen can never make up for the avoidable failures that allowed them to fall. And after four months of distancing herself from the tragedy, Clinton's hearing histrionics rang hollow.
Throughout this sorry saga, Clinton has demonstrated poor leadership. Taking "responsibility" for the attack means nothing without follow-up. It appears that the only thing she hopes to learn from the experience is that - if you play nice with the press and with Congress - you can suffer no consequences for abject failure.
That said, the bumbling of Benghazi and the indifference toward learning from the disaster cannot be erased from reality. The ghosts of Benghazi will always follow Citizen Clinton - even amid the future crowds cheering "Madam Secretary."
-James Jay Carafano is vice president for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First moved by the McClatchy-Tribune News wire.