For John, BLUF: SecState Clinton didn't answer the question and as a result we should conclude that Foggy Bottom isn't capable of drawing the needed lessons. Nothing to see here; just move along.
Mr Eric Chase♠, in a 24 January article at Small Wars Journal, brought up the issue of Defining Terrorism: A Strategic Imperative. Reflecting on the Benghazi Imbroglio, he noted:
Even if a video attacking the Muslim faith had in fact inspired a spontaneous attack on the Consulate, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” This definition certainly seems applicable in such an instance. Nevertheless, applying the label “terrorism” or “terrorist” to any one event, person, or group conjures visceral emotions, incites ideological sparring, and stirs vociferous political debate that reverberate well beyond the initial application of the term.So, in answer to the question, "What differences does it make?"♥ we have a proposal to sift through these things and come up with decent terminology to help us better understand what we are doing in this global war on terrorism.♦ The thing is, if you don't know the names of the different items in the garden, it is harder to communicate what needs picking and what needs hoeing. It is as simple as that. If you don't know what is causing problems then you can't tailor your responses.
Focusing in on Secretary of State Clinton's testimony, and in particular her response to questions from Senator Johnson, I believe there is a difference in knowing the reason for the attack.
- If it was all due to the video, Innocence of Muslims, then it is incumbent upon the Department of State and its Public Diplomacy program to make clear that we will not be curtailing any of our freedoms because of concerns overseas. Just as we don't allow mobs to run wild in the streets of Washington, DC, because someone objects to polygamy or female circumcision in certain Islamic nations, or suppression of homosexuals in Russia, nations overseas should be about protecting American Citizens and American Embassy property from mobs in their nations. If it is all about the video then the responsibility of the Department of State is clear, and it isn't about apologizing.
- If this was all about some man, or group of men out for a walk and feeling a little frisky and they killed four Americans and ten Libyans, then it is a different thing. The attention of the Department of State should be focused like a laser on security of Embassy personnel. As Secretary Clinton said, "It is our job to make sure that it doesn't happen again." End of story; unless it happens again.
- A third possibility is that this is one of a number of attacks being executed at this time (the Algerian Gas Works incident being another) and that this represents a coordinated set of terrorist attacks to achieve some larger goals, such as driving the US and Europeans out of the Islamic Maghreb or destabilizing secular governments in the MENA area. If it is determined that this is, in fact, what Benghazi is all about, then the response of State, in coordination with the Department of Defense, should be about pulling together alliances, providing aid, including training for indigenous forces and airlift and intelligence support to all fighting the war. Economic aid and support is called for, since there seems to be a 5% growth rate threshold for keeping these kinds of things at bay.
And this isn't just on Secretary Clinton. Senator John Kerry, the Secretary designate, didn't do any better in answering the question in his testimony before Congress.
Regards — Cliff
♠ Captain Eric Chase is a former Intelligence Officer in the United States Marine Corps with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently commands Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines and he works at Toffler Associates as a consultant specializing in defense strategic planning and irregular warfare.
♥ From SecState Clinton (Manchester Guardian): "Was it terrorists, or was it because of a guy out for a walk one night? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
♦ I know the term "Global War on Terrorism", along with "Long War", has been not just abandoned, but rejected by the US Federal Government, but that doesn't mean there isn't still some war going on with terrorists and that it doesn't stretch across the face of the earth.