05/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Top Network Foreign Reporters Don't Know The Difference Between The Taliban and Al-Qaeda

I was flipping through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's one-on-one network interviews from yesterday and ran across something that I found disturbing.

Below is an exchange between Clinton and CNN's Jill Dougherty, one of its top foreign affairs reporters concerning the Obama Administration's decision to offer an olive branch to moderate members of Afghanistan's former Taliban government to join our side, as we did in Iraq with Sunni leaders:

JILL DOUGHERTY: And on this reconciliation, bringing members of the Taliban or al-Qaida --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Only the Taliban, we never said al-Qaida. We never said al-Qaida. We have no interest in any kind of reconciliation or any rapprochement by anyone with al-Qaida.

JILL DOUGHERTY: I’m glad you clarified that. On this reconciliation with the Taliban, it sounds like the Awakening Councils in Iraq. I mean, you just mentioned there’s a similarity there. The U.S. paid for that. Will the same situation apply? Would the U.S. be paying for these reconciled (inaudible)?

So, how is it possible that the seasoned Dougherty didn't understand the difference between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as the policy which the administration has just articulated? Seriously?

These are not the same groups. The terrorists are al-Qaeda. The Taliban was the government which harbored them and, in doing so, forced our hand into taking them down. Most people who pay attention to that region know this especially crucial difference. The policy is an effort to bring some moderate members of the previous government -- not the terrorist group -- back into the political fold in a constructive way to help fight al-Qaeda and stabilize the government, as we should have done in Iraq with some Baath Party officials at the very outset (we didn't).

Nonetheless, one of the top foreign affairs reporters for CNN had to be corrected by Clinton for her question, and given that Dougherty thereafter remarked, "I’m glad you clarified that," that clearly suggests it was no inadvertent slip-of-the-tongue. She really did not understand such a fundamental issue of our Afghan policy and the real difference between the two groups. I find that somewhat scary.

I would expect that some Republicans might deliberately conflate the two in hopes of confusing the public to undermine Obama. I would also expect that an ample number of ignorant Americans wouldn't know the difference either. But Jill Dougherty? Come on. That's an embarrassment.

Mark Nickolas is the Managing Editor of Political Base, and this story was from his original post, "When Top Network Foreign Reporters Don't Know The Difference Between The Taliban and Al-Qaeda"