Much of the focus of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday was on whether her department failed to appreciate and respond to the risks that led to the attack in Benghazi, Libya -- and whether it had the resources to confront such risks.
And, of course, on whether in the immediate aftermath, the administration characterized the attack candidly and accurately.
But the hearings also illustrated how the United States is scrambling to catch up with new realities in North Africa -- and how it faces a long struggle in a new arena of instability.
Clinton acknowledged that "the Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region."
Looking back to her confirmation as secretary of state four years ago, Clinton said, "I don't think anybody thought (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak would be gone, (Libya's Moammar) Gadhafi would be gone, (Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali would be gone."
The Arab uprisings had coincided with the decimation of "core al-Qaida" -- with the result that jihadists who had spent years in Pakistan's tribal territories were returning home.
"We have driven a lot of the (al-Qaida) operatives out of the FATA (Pakistan's tribal territories), out of Afghanistan, Pakistan. ... but we have to recognize this is a global movement," she said.
"We now face a spreading jihadist threat," Clinton said. "We do have to contend with the wannabes and affiliates going forward."
On that at least, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., agreed.
He said the United States faces a new and fractured threat environment.
"The Arab Spring has ushered in a time when al-Qaida is on the rise. The world in many ways is even more dangerous because we lack a central command (in al-Qaida) and have instead these nodes that are scattered throughout North Africa and other places."
And Corker added that the United States was "woefully unprepared" for what had happened in the region.
Pandora's Box of Arms
Clinton laid out both Washington's short-term response after the Benghazi attack on Sept. 11, 2012, and how it should deal with the longer-term risks.
"After Benghazi, we accelerated a diplomatic campaign to increase pressure on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorist groups across the region," she said in her opening remarks.
"In near-constant contacts at every level, we have focused on targeting al-Qaida's syndicate of terror -- closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering extremist ideology and slowing the flow of new recruits," she said.
But there was a mountain to climb.
Clinton expressed particular concern at events in Mali. Well-armed Tuareg militia who had been working for Gadhafi had come home just as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb had also gravitated toward the area.
And only Algeria among Mali's neighbors had the capacity to aid security in Mali, she said. The rest were simply not strong enough.
The size and topography of northern Mali, with its endless desert and caves, made for a long struggle, she said.
"But it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven."
Clinton said the availability of weapons was a major problem, describing it as a Pandora's Box that was the "source of one of our biggest threats."
She asserted there was "no doubt that the Algerian terrorists (who attacked the gas facility in In Amenas last week) had weapons from Libya. There's no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM have weapons from Libya."
She also singled out the threat from Islamist militants of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, which according to some counterterrorism officials has begun to establish informal links with AQIM.
Who did Benghazi?