"They wanted to talk about the idolatry of French air power," Tinti told me, referring to the accuracy of strikes that destroyed Islamist trucks without
leveling nearby houses. "As far as I know, there has not been an official civilian casualty."
Such elation often follows humanitarian-driven interventions. Diplomats and aid workers speak of a post-intervention golden hour when goodwill and
international influence is at its highest. Bosnian Muslims expressed joy during the first waves of NATO airstrikes against Serb forces in 1995. Afghans
expressed awe at the American airstrikes that helped topple the Taliban in 2001. And Iraqi Shiites cheered when U.S. forces decimated Saddam Hussein's
Republican Guard in 2003. The problem, though, is what comes next?
In her final answer of the day on Wednesday, Clinton summed up the dilemma herself.
"Nobody can match us in military assets and prowess," she said, "but a lot of the challenges we face are not immediately - or sustainably - solved by
military action alone."
Tinti, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in northern Mali before becoming a journalist, went on to describe a political landscape in Mali reminiscent
of Afghanistan. Jihadists are unpopular but the government is weak. Many members of Mali's corrupt local political class have lost the confidence of the
population. The Malian army and security forces are seen as inept. Demands from Tuaregs and other ethnic groups for autonomy have gone unaddressed for
years. And the narcotic trade - cocaine to Europe - exacerbates all those dynamics.
In her testimony, Clinton held up
Somalia and Colombia as examples for Mali. She argued that U.S. funding of an African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, has slowly succeeded in driving
back al-Shabaab and other Islamist forces. In Colombia, the government has driven back FARC rebels and narco-traffickers.
There have been setbacks and the efforts in both countries are imperfect. But local security forces trained and funded by the international community
slowly gained ground in painstaking, years-long efforts.
"What we have to do is recognize that we're in for a long term struggle here," Clinton said at the hearing. "And that means we've got to pay attention to
places that historically we have not chosen to or had to."
During their heated exchange, McCain criticized Clinton and the Obama administration for not doing enough to train Libya's security forces. Clinton
retorted that House Republicans had put a hold on the funding the administration requested to train Libyan forces.
"If this is a priority and we are serious about trying to help this government stand up security forces," she said, "then we have to work together."
Clinton is right. And so is McCain. Congressional politicking hinders the State Department. And the State Department executed terribly in Benghazi. But
Clinton, who I have criticized in the past
, is right about the threat.