Today's congressional hearings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, are a tense and highly politicized confrontation between skeptical Republican lawmakers and a prominent member of the Obama administration.
They also offer an opportunity for a national discussion about some of the most difficult issues facing U.S. policymakers in the Middle East today: post-authoritarian political fragmentation, the rising power of militias, small-arms proliferation, the push-pull between security and diplomacy in conflict zones and even the legacy of the U.S.-backed Libya intervention.
But anyone hoping for the latter rather than the former might be disappointed. One of them is Joshua Hersh, a Middle East correspondent for the Huffington Post who is currently reporting on the hearings. As someone more accustomed to Beirut, where he was formerly based, than to the U.S. Congress, Hersh had perhaps not properly calibrated his expectations of the level of political discourse. But the now-lengthy hearings are clearly wearing on him.
Hersh's Twitter feed since the hearings began, and his clear slide from bemusement to bafflement, provide something of a microcosm of the way some foreign correspondents, in my anecdotal experience, react when they first hear how the District talks about the foreign policy that so matters for the world. Hersh writes at one point, in obvious frustration, "These hearings are a sorry coda to an actually very important situation: trivial questions abound while substantive ones go unasked."