An Embassy Attack Isn’t Necessary – A Threat Will Do
This past weekend, I was taken by the contrast between the announced terrorist threat directed at the United States and the administration’s response to that threat.
The American government announced that because of an intercepted, undefined threat from Al Qaeda, it was closing 21 embassies across the Middle East and North Africa. I have no issue with taking precautionary measures. What happened in Benghazi illustrates the consequences of not being prepared but I found this response more than just a little confusing and confused.
By closing its embassies, the government immediately gave Al Qaeda a victory.
It sent a message that terrorists don’t actually have to carry out their threats – they merely have to make them to instill fear in the American government. By closing its embassies, the United States was announcing that for all of its military power, it could not protect them which only further underscored what happened in Benghazi.
Contrary to being prudent, it ends up encouraging terrorists to perceive that the American government is weak and afraid; a message that will only encourage future threats and attacks. It also reveals that the government has successfully cracked Al Qaeda’s communications network which simply means they will change it.
The other thing I found confusing about the closure was the apparent assumption that Al Qaeda would keep its word. The threat was for a terrorist act on Sunday and the closure of the embassies seems to signal the belief that Al Qaeda won’t delay the attack until after the embassies are reopened.
Is there any reason to believe that one or more embassy couldn’t be attacked on Tuesday or Wednesday? Certainly, if I was orchestrating an attack and the target sent out a message that it was in hiding for the day I had scheduled the attack, I would simply change the date and attack when it was more advantageous to do so.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, a military strategist or a terrorist to figure that out.
So, it appears to me that by closing the embassies, the American government boxed itself into a corner. It will claim that it thwarted the attack by shutting down operations for a day but the dilemma it now faces is what happens when the embassies are reopened?
They can’t remain closed forever unless it is the government’s decision to permanently terminate diplomatic services in the countries involved. That means that once the embassies reopen, the government is right back where it started before it closed the embassies – a target.
It will have to keep its embassies in the region on heightened alert and intensify security so the obvious question is – why didn’t it do that in the first place? Why the public show of fear?
I’m not overly surprised to be honest. This administration has shown a remarkable inability when it comes to international affairs and national security. It has no strategic foreign policy and its national security imperatives seem to get developed on the fly.
It alternately negotiates with terrorist groups and bombs them with drone attacks. It takes out one tyrant but ignores another and in some cases actually props them up. President Obama drew a line in the sand – a red line he called it – over the use of chemical weapons in Syria. When chemical weapons were used, he and his administration worked overtime to come up with excuses why they weren’t carrying through on their threat.
The government gave money to an Egyptian government that was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and which was decidedly undemocratic only to have it blow up in their face and the country is in flames again.
It dithered on the civil war in Syria until it finally decided to provide aid to the rebels after they have been hijacked by terrorist groups that include Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Think about that for a moment. The same government that closed its embassies because of a terrorist threat by Al Qaeda is providing arms and aid to Al Qaeda backed rebels in Syria.
That not only doesn’t seem to me to be a very sound foreign policy strategy, it seems outright schizophrenic.
This whole business left me scratching my head. If the threat was so significant, why did the administration respond the way it did? I’m not talking about merely closing its embassies; I’m talking about what happened back in the homeland.
Why, for example, did the President not speak to the American people about what was happening? That’s almost de rigueur in a situation like this and yet, it didn’t happen. His National Security council met over the weekend but President Obama went golfing and posed for photo ops with a new fishing rod he had been given for his birthday.
If he thought that somehow this sent a message to the world in general and Al Qaeda in particular that he was unconcerned about the threat, then he is a fool. Closing the embassies sent a very clear message that he was concerned but not enough to stand up to Al Qaeda despite his claim that he had them “on the run”. His personal actions simply confirmed what too many around the world, especially America’s enemies believe and that is, quite simply, that this president is weak, ineffectual and not to be feared.
His leadership in times of threat is in decided contrast to those of past presidents both capable and less so. Imagine how Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Regan would have responded.
John Kennedy called the Soviet Union on its attempts to place missiles in Cuba. It was a tense few hours but the Soviets backed down because they knew that Kennedy wasn’t bluffing. He was standing firm and prepared to pull the trigger if required.
When Sadaam Hussein invaded Kuwait, George Bush organized an international coalition that unceremoniously threw him out and all but decimated his military. They kept the Iraqi president contained with no fly zones until subsequent administrations relaxed that containment and allowed him to rebuild his strength which led to a second war.
Terrorists have one objective and one objective only – to inflict terror. They don’t care how they do it. Mass murder is a preferred option but if the threat of vicious killing will suffice, they’re good with that too and that is exactly what happened this past weekend.
The threat was intercepted – the administration blinked.
It would have done better to immediately intensify its security with a significant show of force and keep its embassies open with a skeleton staff. A couple of surprise attacks on known terrorist strongholds and a strong public message from the President might have helped as well. I also think that his foreign policy of appeasement of countries that harbour terrorists is bizarre to say the least. The current threat apparently centres on Yemen and I believe a strong threat to the Yemeni government that they risk attack from the United States if they continue to harbour Al Qaeda might be more effective than closing down the embassy.
If enough small countries that offer sanctuary to Al Qaeda and similar groups are forced to realize the the United States is not impotent and will act decisively against them as, for example, Israel does, terrorist groups might quickly find themselves fewer refuges in which to hide.
The message would have been that the United States is not afraid and will not be cowed into submission by the threat of violence.
As anyone who has ever been victimized by a bully can tell you, the only way to defend yourself is to stand up to the bully. Otherwise the bullying never stops. It is the same with nations. Neville Chamberlain discovered too late that appeasement doesn’t work and his ongoing attempt to appease Adolf Hitler gave Hitler all the time he needed to build an army that took on the world in a horrific squandering of human life.
Closing the embassies and running off to play golf will not make Al Qaeda more wary about making future threats and attacks. It will only encourage them.
Now when the United States attempts to sit down as a power-broker between the Palestinians and Israel, it will do so with its credibility further reduced by a president who believes that he can lead from the rear.
Sadly, you can’t be a leader if you’re invisible or only available by phone. When the storm threatens, you have to be front and centre on deck not in New York on the Letterman Show while your mission in Benghazi is under attack or on the links when your embassies are threatened around the world.
Margaret Thatcher didn’t respond to Argentina’s incursion of the Falkland Islands by evacuating the island – she responded by sending the navy to defend British territory. Embassies are sovereign territory and closing your embassies in the face of threat is equivalent to evacuating and abandoning one of your cities or states rather than defending it. At some point, you have to make a stand and send a clear and present signal that any attack will be met with a strong response that will serve to make those who would attack a little more wary about it in the future.
Great leaders understand that. Weak leaders don’t. Winston Churchill saw the danger Hitler posed long before Neville Chanberlain but he was ignored.
Barrack Obama is not a leader of the caliber of Margaret Thatcher or John Kennedy or Ronald Regan. He is a contemporary Neville Chamberlain who thinks he can use glib rhetoric to mold the world in his own image. He is, quite simply, wrong. He does not inspire a nation to unite in times of common threat nor does he inspire confidence in his allies or fear in his nation’s enemies.
The president’s response was so anemic that some are now suggesting that the entire situation was manufactured to take some of the heat off the ongoing Benghazi investigations. Manufactured or real, it was a poor showing by what was once the most powerful nation on earth – a nation that was unafraid of its enemies and that refused to hide from them.
Awhile back I read Hillary Mantel’s excellent book on the French Revolution called A Place of Greater Safety and I realized as I watched events unfold over the weekend that this president has more in common with Louis XVI than he does with past presidents who led the American people. Like Louis XVI, Barack Obama doesn’t really know what to do about the world that is unfolding around him.
That didn’t turn out very well for Louis and I don’t think it will turn out all that well for this president either.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The written content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others
Connect with the Bear on Twitter: @maggsbear or send a friend request on Facebook to: Maggie’s Bear