Select committees make for good theater and often uncover important facts. But in the national security arena, the independent commissions that have probed the most shocking security lapses — including the 2001 attacks and several devastating bombings of U.S. embassies — have a better record of conducting impartial investigations and bringing about landmark reforms. …

Graham and McCain, in arguing the need for such a high-powered, high-visibility effort, invoked the select committees that investigated the Watergate and Iran-contrascandals, implying that Obama administration officials may have acted unethically or criminally. …

These comments suggest that the Republican senators have prejudged the investigation’s outcome, a conclusion that is only strengthened by their statements that they will do everything in their power to stop U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from becoming secretary of state if Obama nominates her. In this partisan context, Senate Democrats have little incentive to agree to establish a select committee. Even if such a panel were named, it would fracture quickly along party lines.

A better approach is already in place. Under a 1986 law, the secretary of state must convene an independent commission, called an accountability review board, to investigate any incident involving loss of life or destruction of property at a U.S. mission abroad. Accordingly, in September, Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed a five-member panel led by Thomas Pickering, a highly regarded former senior State Department official.