In this case, a specific motive was to portray the Libyan regime as an American puppet. To overthrow the regime, it is necessary to attack and defeat the United States, making Americans and U.S. influence flee the country. The message is: the Americans cannot save the Libyan government just as they could not protect the shah in Iran or Mubarak in Egypt. Once Syria falls, the Islamists there will pull out Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry quotes to “prove” that President Bashar al-Assad was an American agent and thus everything bad he did can be blamed on Washington.
The Obama administration wants to bury this analysis — it calls attention to the threat of revolutionary Islamism, and in the last case, to the negative aspects of its own Libya policy. Whether or not that initiative of overthrowing Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was a good idea, the fact remains that such a policy has costs. Whether or not unilateral actions and the use of force is a good idea or not in any specific case, standing aside and doing nothing while Americans were killed will also have its costs.
Whether or not America has made mistakes in its past policies, apologies and concessions will only persuade the Islamists and a large sector of the local population that the United States is weak, can be defeated, and therefore attacks should be escalated.
Aside from the irrelevance of motive, the other point Clinton made was to emphasize that the most important thing was to punish those responsible. While that sounds impressive, virtually nothing has been done to achieve that goal.
In general, of course, the problem is identifying and finding the terrorists, especially if they are located in a country which provides a safe haven to terrorists. The United States never effectively punished, for example, those who attacked the Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s. The Libyan case, however, is different. Libya is ruled by a government that is as close to being a U.S. dependent as any Arab government in modern history. There is no sign of serious U.S. pressure on the Libyan regime to do anything. On the contrary, we see that the regime has let suspects go, and that those responsible still operate freely within the country. Again, we are not dealing with terrorists hiding out in places like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, or Lebanon, but rather people going about their daily lives in a country supposedly friendly to the United States.
I believe that more than four months after the killings the administration hasn’t even named a specific group as having carried out the attack or individuals who led the attack. U.S. intelligence cannot possibly be that bad. Well, there is a big problem here, isn’t there? How can the Obama Administration announce that the Libyan attack–and now the large-scale attack on an Algerian oil well where at least one American was killed among several dozen people–was carried out by al-Qaida since it has previously announced that it destroyed that organization. It is possible that politics is getting in the way of the punishment of the perpetrators that Clinton allegedly thirsts for.
Of course, it is embarrassing for the Libyan government to cooperate in going after these terrorists because they are fellow Arabs and Muslims andmight seek revenge against that government. Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks, that the U.S. priority on getting these individuals would override that political consideration for the Libyan government. It doesn’t.
Remember that it is highly likely — U.S. leaders with access to intelligence know for sure — that high-ranking officials in Pakistan were helping Osama bin Laden hide despite receiving billions of dollars in U.S. aid. But Libya is an easier case, since supposedly the United States has a lot of leverage there.
Remember, too, that it is highly likely that U.S. leadership let those brave Americans in Libya die because it didn’t want to rush in with military forces and embarrass an incompetent and unwilling-to-act Libyan government.