Chutzpah is a Yiddish word for which there is no English equivalent. The dictionary definition is “shameless audacity or impudence.” But Leo Rosten’s illustrative definition is more interesting. Chutzpah, he suggests, is “ that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”
Anyone looking for a contemporary example of chutzpah might well choose outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s explanation of the Benghazi terrorist attack on September 11, 2012 that took the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
First, a summary of the essential facts of the Benghazi affair. (For more details and a timeline, Google “Timeline, Benghazi Affair.”)
- In the months preceding the attack, U.S. embassy warnings about the growing danger in Libya were ignored and their requests for extra security in Libya were denied.
- No military or rescue response was authorized during or following the attack, even though real-time intelligence made clear what was happening.
- On September 12, the day after the attack, Reuters reported that it had been pre-planned, was carried out by militants, and had nothing to do with any anti-Islam video.
- On September 14, Press Secretary Jay Carney acted as if he hadn’t heard the Reuters report. He stated that the attack had not been a planned terrorist incident but instead a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video. (The video’s creator was subsequently arrested.)
- On September 16, the Obama Administration sent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice—who was later revealed to be unqualified to speak about the Benghazi affair—to a number of Sunday talk shows. She called the attack “spontaneous, not premeditated” and declared that the anti-Islamic video was the “proximate cause.” On that same day, the President of Libya’s General National Congress told CBS News that the attacks were “preplanned” and “premeditated” and were carried out by “affiliates and maybe sympathizers” of al Qaeda.
- On October 15, Secretary Clinton asserted she took “full responsibility” for the Benghazi affair.
- On November 16, former CIA Director David Petraeus told Congressman Peter King that Ambassador Rice’s Sunday talk show “talking points” had been edited to play down the possibility of terrorism. That claim was independently corroborated by CIA analysts.
- On November 22, Ambassador Rice commented on her earlier claims on the Sunday talk shows, “I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community.”
With all this in mind, consider Secretary Clinton’s widely publicized response to Senator Ron Johnson’s question in the Senate hearing on January 23, 2013. He asked if it were true that by making a simple phone call, she and others could have easily determined that there was no protest over a video and that the attack was an act of terrorism.
Secretary Clinton replied: “The fact is that [there are] four dead Americans. Whether because of a protest or whether because guys out for a walk one night decided they would go kill some Americans. [Here she spoke more dramatically.] What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again . . . .”
Now that is Chutzpah with a capital C. Here’s why:
Clinton avoided answering the Senator’s question, and as if that were not offensive enough, she referred to two possible causes of the attack—a protest and a spontaneous decision—both of which she knew to be false as she uttered them, while omitting the documented cause, terrorism.
She offered, by means of a rhetorical question, her judgment that there is no valid reason for figuring out why four Americans were killed. Then in the very next breath she said the real job is “to figure out what happened” and “to prevent it from ever happening again.” The questions that shrieked to be answered at that point were what exactly is the difference between finding the cause and figuring out what happened? And how can we prevent it from happening again if we don’t learn what caused it to happen?
In responding as she did, she was blatantly dismissing the very concerns that prompted the Senate to hold hearings on the Benghazi affair: her State Department’s failure to act on the Embassy’s warnings of danger; the lack of a military or rescue effort during and after the attack; the question of why she herself did not go on the Sunday talk shows but allowed an uninformed Susan Rice to do so; the editorial falsifying of Rice’s talking points; and the Administration’s persistent telling of a story (about the video) they knew to be false.
By dismissing all these concerns, Secretary Clinton made a mockery of her own claim to take “full responsibility” for the Benghazi attack, a claim she not only repeated in numerous television interviews before the Senate hearing but also included in her opening statement at the hearing.
Four days after her performance at the Senate hearing, Hillary appeared with President Obama in a CBS 60 Minutes interview. In the midst of cloying expressions of mutual admiration, the President offered this opinion: “I think Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretary of States we’ve had.” The Secretary did not offer a rebuttal.
Let me revise what I said earlier. In Clinton’s case, forget about capitalizing just the initial letter in Chutzpah. Capitalize the whole word!
Copyright © 2013 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved
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