It might sound like a Slate headline, but today, the Washington Post’s editorial board praises Hillary Clinton for speaking frankly about the threats presented to Americans by Islamist militants in the Maghreb. Yes, this is the same Hillary Clinton whose State Department failed to make clear the risks in Benghazi, not deigning to increase security after it became clear that Islamist militias were targeting Western diplomats there, and still has not explained exactly what they believe happened that night, and who they think the perpetrators may have been (State’s discussion of the events in Algeria, in which three American workers were murdered, has also been less than clear). But if you can stomach the irony, WaPo’s editors actually make a good point:
We were struck by the forcefulness and clarity with which she made the case that the United States faces a “very serious, ongoing” and “strategic” threat in North Africa from al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadists — one that she argued demands a vigorous and comprehensive response. . . .
The outgoing secretary’s statements were particularly striking when compared with President Obama’s inaugural address Monday, which promised to end “a decade of war” in favor of nation-building at home, and with the White House’s current approach to Mali. France sent troops there this month to prevent jihadists linked to al-Qaeda who are entrenched in Mali’s northern deserts from taking over the rest of the country.
But as the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, Mr. Obama and his advisers have taken a skeptical view of the need for U.S. involvement. . . . The Journal reported that while the Pentagon has wanted to target the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which was involved in the Benghazi attack as well as last week’s assault on a gas field in Algeria, White House policymakers argue that the group doesn’t pose a direct threat to the United States.
I wrote on Monday about the divide between the White House’s reluctance to deal with North African Islamists and the Pentagon’s recognition of the threat. While obviously that threat is in some ways limited, it is real and demands some American response; the White House, it appears, is so eager to maintain its narrative about winding down the War on Terror that it dragged its feet on something as simple as airlift assistance for a NATO ally and still isn’t offering the other logistical aid France needs. It’s heartening to see Secretary Clinton recognize this, too — though she is leaving office in a few weeks, so at this point, what difference does it make?