Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's swan song before the Senate and House committees on foreign affairs was in a sense a prelude to any future bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. It gave Republicans a last chance to cast her as an irresponsible guardian of American security in the Benghazi terrorist attack while she held the reins at the State Department.
A host of Republicans on both committees filled the official record with direct or inferential attacks on her role, certain to be dusted off and resurrected should she make a second bid for the Oval Office in 2016.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona castigated her for defending what he said were "false answers" provided by UN Ambassador Susan Rice on Sunday talk shows initially indicating that the Benghazi attacks were in protest against alleged slurs against Islam rather than terrorist actions. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that if he had been president, he would have fired her.
Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina wanted to know why the secretary didn't go on the Sunday shows herself to explain, accusing her of "national security malpractice" and letting "the consulate become a death trap" on her watch. To the charge of Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that Ms. Rice had "purposely" misled the public, Mrs. Clinton angrily pounded the table in denial, and subsequently lectured: "Let's avoid turning everything into a political football."
The comment seemed a clear allusion to the Republican tactic in the late presidential campaign of accusing the Obama administration of a cover-up in the Benghazi tragedy, a highlight of the second Obama debate with Mitt Romney. The line of questioning strongly hinted that the dispute would cling to any 2016 Clinton bid for the presidency.
But four years is a long time for the Republicans to try to keep alive a political accusation that did not materially take hold against President Barack Obama in his unexpectedly comfortable victory over Mr. Romney. Nevertheless, it is a now-familiar gambit of conservative Republicans to give continuing life-support to old allegations of Democratic disloyalty or even treason.
Throughout the Cold War, charges of "Who lost China?" remained in the mantra of anti-communist conservatives. So did "Who lost Vietnam?" as in the narrative on the Tet Offensive of 1968, interpreted as an American military victory by many Republican diehards, while acknowledging that it was widely perceived at home as a defeat.
Whatever the lasting political reading on the Benghazi killing of American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three State Department aides, Secretary Clinton leaves her four-year stint with generally high marks for enhancing America's reputation abroad, and within the diplomatic community.
As for her stature at home, there can be little dispute that she emerges as the most prominent female figure in Democratic politics, a posture that should easily sustain her over the next four years no matter what she chooses to undertake as a private citizen. The odds remain strong, barring some unforeseen circumstance, that she would be the frontrunner going into the 2016 election cycle if that is her intention or wish.
Not the least of her performance as secretary of state, rebounding from her narrow defeat at Barack Obama's hands in the heated 2008 Democratic primaries, has been her apparently seamless folding into the administration of the man who vanquished her. Their partnership appears to have come a long way from the time of Mr. Obama's somewhat churlish and condescending debate remark then that she was "likeable enough."
The now-iconic photograph of her in the White House situation room, sharing with Mr. Obama and his innermost circle that view of the monitored mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, attested to the post-election harmony achieved by them.
For whatever reason, although Hillary Clinton in foreign policy has proved to be strongly supportive of the use of American power abroad, she seems to stir a particularly bitter hostility among many Republican conservatives. But an army of women appears ready to march behind her should she attempt again to become the first woman American president four years from now.
Jules Witcover is a former longtime writer for The Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at email@example.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun