Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bristled in a heated moment at yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when pressed about why the Obama Administration initially failed to recognize the September 11 Benghazi, Libya, attack as terrorism. She countered: “Was it because of a protest or is it because of guys out for a walk one night and they decide they go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

It makes a huge difference because:

  • It indicates that the Obama Administration fails to grasp the ideological motivation of Islamist terrorists. They are motivated to kill Americans not because of emotional reactions to alleged slights such as the questionable video on Mohammed, but because they seek to seize power and impose their Islamist totalitarian ideology on other Muslims. They see terrorist attacks against Americans as a means of demonstrating their own power, undermining adversaries aligned with the United States and attracting recruits and financial support.
  • It indicates that the Administration misunderstands the nature and scope of the Islamist terrorist threat. The fact that Administration officials failed to acknowledge for many days that the Benghazi assault was in fact a terrorist attack—despite the fact that it occurred on the anniversary of the 9/11 attack and involved a radical Islamist militia known to have links with al-Qaeda—reflects a failure to recognize the threat and connect the dots.
  • The Obama Administration must correctly diagnose the threat in order to prevent future terrorist killings of Americans. The State Department and other U.S. government agencies obviously need to take much stronger precautions against determined Islamist terrorists than it does against protesters or “guys out for a walk one night.” Regrettably, the Administration seeks to treat terrorism under a law enforcement paradigm that failed to protect Americans from terrorism when it was adopted by the Clinton Administration before 9/11. In Libya and elsewhere, where the rule of law is weak or nonexistent, this approach is doomed to fail. What is needed is a more proactive, comprehensive, and global approach.

The Obama Administration continues to underestimate the degree to which al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists have exploited the “Arab Spring.” Although Ambassador Christopher Stevens clearly recognized the growing threat posed by Islamist militias in Libya, this understanding was not shared by top officials in the Administration.

By peevishly asking “What difference, at this point, does it make?” about the initial failure of the Administration to correctly label the assault on the Benghazi diplomatic mission as a terrorist attack, Secretary Clinton demonstrates that she fails to understand the implications of the September 11 attack in Benghazi, as well as the flawed U.S. counterterrorism policy that led to the original 9/11 terrorist attack.

See also: The Arab Spring Descends into Islamist Winter: Implications for U.S. Policy