Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony yesterday vividly demonstrated that competence is as critical as ideology when it comes to the highest ranks of national security officials.

Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel
President Obama and defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams writes, “Having worked as an assistant secretary of state and a deputy national-security adviser, I can report that even in those posts one is entirely swamped by cable traffic and needs a system to cope with it — to be sure that the really important ones get through. From all the available evidence, Hillary Clinton failed to establish such a system for herself, and that management failure is a far more important fact about her tenure than being the third woman to hold the post or having flown more miles than Condoleezza Rice.”

In essence Clinton’s excuse for not recognizing the threat to her people in Benghazi  was ignorance. That ignorance was evident on a broader level.

In an appearance on Fox News with Greta van Susteren, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) points out:

You had all this information coming in from different sources to the State Department that basically said Libya is dangerous, Benghazi in particular is dangerous. In fact, it’s so dangerous that other countries have pulled their missions out. But the United States did not respond to that with sufficient enough security or an extraction plan to get our people out of there. And at the end of the day, that’s just bad decision making.

Perhaps Clinton was so busy checking off her to-do list and racking up the frequent-flyer miles that she was focused on minutiae or not focused on the right things or simply overwhelmed. This is the sort of executive overload that can have dire consequences for people in high office.

Clinton lost it at the hearing when she cried out, “What difference does it make?” with regard to the false narrative the administration put out in the days following the Benghazi attack. On one level this is simply a knee-jerk, defensive reaction. On the other hand it goes to the purpose of her job — to assimilate, analyze and formulate coherent policy based on the world as it is, not as she would want it to be.

Rubio explains why it matters and hence why Clinton’s failure is greater even than Benghazi:

Here is why it matters. Because when they put out word that this was not a terrorist attack — that it sprung out a spontaneous uprising — it furthered the narrative that somehow Al Qaeda was in disarray. That the elimination of Bin Laden had made this extraordinary reduction in the risks in the area. As it turns out, not only was that not true in Libya but we are now seeing it’s not true in other parts of North Africa as well. And the fundamental question is, “Did the administration really believe that?” Because if they did, they badly miscalculated.

Or did they know it wasn’t true but for political reasons did not want that narrative out there? In essence, their narrative was that they were winning the war on terror, they were eliminating these groups and they were no longer capable of carrying attacks against the U.S. It was one or the other. Either they were wrong — they assessed wrong that radical terrorists were not capable of carrying out an attack — or they knew that they could but they didn’t want to admit it because it went against their political narrative during an election season. So it’s one of those two and we aren’t happy with either one.

He is dead right. And the danger of ideologically driven self-delusion and/or management collapse will grow in the second term if yes men who will say whatever the White House deems convenient are confirmed. In Obama’s determination to create a Cabinet of weaklings with a history of bad judgment and highly questionable executive skills, he increases the chances of Clinton-like failures. The Senate has an obligation to prevent that through the advice-and-consent process.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.