How much does former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wish she were still in the Senate? Don't ask.

If she had only said "no" back when, she would now be beginning her third term in the Senate, an institutional fixture respected by many, able to say and to do what she wants.

She wouldn't be trying to explain why her State Department left its embassy in Libya underprepared for the anniversary of 9/11; why her response to the riots was so underwhelming; and why she, along with the rest of the government, spent days afterward misleading the country as to how all of this came about.

She wouldn't be trying to explain why, when she knew from the start it was a long-planned terrorist strike by a branch of al Qaeda, she told the world, the country and the relatives of the four dead Americans that the riots were caused by one badly made video.

She wouldn't be hearing the parents of two of the dead say she lied to them over and over, on the phone, in person, and over their sons' flag-draped caskets. She wouldn't know the mother of one of the dead sent her a Mother's Day "greeting" blaming her for having deserted her only child.

Not what you want when you're running for president. And this may be merely the start.

What has she lost? Merely her rationale for running for president, her claim being that she is ready to take the 3 a.m. telephone call on the basis of having lived for eight years in the White House, and her profession of competence.

The call finally came -- at 2 a.m. in Libya -- and she was nowhere near ready enough. Put this ad in the pile of tape in the office of any potential opponent, ready to be morphed into an attack ad at the drop of her hat in the ring.

Add this to the tapes of the parents who think her indifference helped lead to the deaths of their children and you have a nice little package, topped off by her shriek to a Senate committee, "What difference at this point does it make?"

Well, it does make a difference if it was a spontaneous blast or a well-planned attack by a dangerous enemy, and if she doesn't know this, any opponent who may be running against her will be happy to tell her just why.

Some people -- former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., among others -- say that when campaign time rolls around this will all be history, but this seems unlikely at best.

It might be if she were still in the Senate, where new words and new acts could dilute the impression, but, as it is, she is not. She has no office, no institutional presence, no platform to speak from, and there is nothing at all she can do.

This was in effect her last act in office, and will be the defining one -- in fact, it may be the only thing people remember, as nothing else seems to stand out.

Were she still in the Senate, she would be perfectly positioned to take a principled stand, supporting her president while sending the world the subliminal "I told you so" message, that if it were she, not the rookie, who answered the phone call, it would never have turned out like this.

But it has come to this, and they're in it together. How much does she wish she were still in the Senate? She can't wish it quite hard enough.

Washington Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."