SANTA CLARA, Calif. - It's possible that Hillary Clinton may decide not to run for president in 2016, but there is very little reason to believe such a decision would be a result of her handling of the Benghazi attacks.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, Clinton is leaving her post as secretary of state with an "eye-popping" 69 percent approval rating.

This is nearly 20 percent higher than President Obama's average approval rating in January, according to Real Clear Politics, and nearly 50 percent higher than Congress.

If Secretary Clinton's approval numbers are this high during a month in which she endured a hostile congressional grilling over Benghazi, there is no reason to expect the incident is going to meaningfully plague her.

Furthermore, the historical evidence suggests that Americans are not inclined to punish their leaders for a failure to anticipate and prevent attacks on our citizens. In the wake of surprise attacks we tend to be much more interested in national unity than in recriminations, as seen in the case of Pearl Harbor and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Ronald Reagan won a landslide re-election in 1984 only a year and a half after the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, which killed 241 American servicemen, and George W. Bush was re-elected handily despite having failed to anticipate or prevent the 9/11 attacks - and recall that he had received a memo on Aug. 6 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." While playing the "blame game" is a perennial favorite of politicians, the American people have never demonstrated much enthusiasm for it.

Clinton's response to Benghazi is another factor working in her favor. Clinton directly answered tough questions from Congress in her testimony, and she forcefully argued that the State Department was doing everything within its power to address the problems and to hold the people responsible accountable.

Clinton has demonstrated a willingness to accept responsibility for mistakes that were made and to work to fix the problems that have been identified.

Most important, she has not engaged in a cover-up. Historically, this type of response satisfies the American people.

A leader's legacy is rarely dependent on a single event, regardless of how significant that event may seem at the time.

The continuing confidence the American people have shown in Clinton's leadership of the State Department reflects an appreciation of her overall record during a time that included the spread of democracy in North Africa and a general restoration of American prestige abroad.

But perhaps the strongest evidence that the Benghazi incident will not harm Secretary Clinton's legacy is the decisive re-election of President Obama. If Benghazi wasn't sufficient to prevent Barack Obama's re-election, it is hard to imagine that it would prevent Hillary Clinton from running in 2016 if she so chooses.

Editor's note

Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service to give readers a broad view of issues.

Jim Cottrill is an assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University.