Belmont Club

The Air Raid Siren

Some commentators, irked at the fun being poked at the Obama administration’s closure of U.S. diplomatic facilities, have observed that there were numerous threat warnings during the Bush administration. Why should the Obama administration’s closure of the embassies be so objectionable? Is there not a real threat out there, especially since not only the U.S. but other Western embassies are embarked on precautions?

It is a valid criticism that deserves consideration. First of all, there probably is a terror threat out there, though its extent and nature are revealed only in contradictory clues. It is precisely in those contradictions that the jarring disconnects emerge.

Back when the Bush administration issued alerts — you can think of them as air-raid warnings — it also claimed there was a War on Terror. When there’s a war on, you expect the air-raid siren to sound. The alerts and the War on Terror were all of a piece. They fit in with each other.

However that term — the War on Terror — was described as overblown by Obama, and it is no longer used by the administration. “Al Qaeda is dead and Detroit is alive” was the way they put it. Thus the reason Obama’s air-raid siren, though validly sounded, seems ironic is that it is like getting a warning of an impending Luftwaffe raid as the VE day celebration is underway. Surely it isn’t impertinent to ask: if it’s VE day, how come the Luftwaffe is coming?

If the war isn’t over, then a lot of the decisions the administration made don’t make obvious sense.

The current threats seem centered around the Middle East and North Africa. But didn’t the administration leave the Middle East and pivot to Afghanistan because that was the locus of the problem? Didn’t they promise to close Guantanamo? Was there not a commitment to pursue “terrorists” as ordinary criminals?

But that could never work out. Not in a million years. It wasn’t meant to. That was just the outside of the confidence game.

To give the administration its due, it did not close Guantanamo. And despite the rhetoric about relying on the courts to fight terrorism with the justice system, the administration ramped up, rather than phased out, the system of whacking high-value targets with drones. Were that not enough, the administration promised to be the most “transparent” in American history. However, recent events show they’ve been spying on everyone, and that means everyone. And when this was revealed, what defense did the administration invoke? “We need to wiretap the world because there are threats out there.”

And hey, the CIA and other forces are now redeploying to — guess where? The Middle East.

So the probable truth is that there really is a War on Terror. A real threat. It is a threat that cannot adequately be dealt with by law enforcement activities, nor with grand bargains, nor with speeches in Cairo. It can only be dealt with by secret rendition, robot killers, and universal surveillance, or so it would seem. And thus, in that context, the precautions the administration is announcing — though you may disagree with their precise form — are definitely in order.

The problem is that the politicians have been caught lying again. They sold the electorate a fake narrative to get elected. “Bush is lying because the war never existed, or if it did, it is over.” But now that they’re elected, these same politicians are slowly but surely sneaking in their version of secret and disguised combat through the back door. And there he sits, unnamed, unintroduced, and eating everything on the kitchen table.

And yet they continue to act in a half-hearted and furtive fashion, like a liar caught red-handed in his falsehood and determined to deny it. As Paul Sperry writes in the NY Post: “Why are we on alert today? Because al-Qaeda we captured either escaped or let go.”

The administration’s policy on the “War on Terror” is seriously muddled. And its efforts are suffering in consequence.

The pertinent questions: is the War on Terror over, or still on? Is al-Qaeda dead, or alive? Is it shrinking, or growing? The politician’s lips say “yes, the war is over,” but their alerts say “no.” Which do you believe?

The Jerusalem Post quotes Long War Journal analyst Thomas Joscelyn, who says that from Israel’s perspective, al-Qaeda and its affiliates are gaining a greater presence than they probably have ever had on Israel’s borders:

Joscelyn, a terrorism analyst specializing in al-Qaida and a senior editor of The Long War Journal as well as a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Sunday said that many people in the U.S. have been trying to argue that al-Qaida is dead, but this news demonstrates that this was not a correct assessment.

“The Arab Spring was said to be the death knell for al-Qaida, but this idea was false all along,” he said adding, “just look at Syria, which has one of the most thriving al-Qaida affiliates on the planet — more fighters are there now than have been in any one location in a long time.”

From Israel’s perspective al-Qaida and its affiliates are gaining a greater presence than they probably have ever had on Israel’s borders, he says. Look at what is happening in Sinai, Gaza, Syria, and Al-Qaida logistical operations run out of Lebanon and Jordan and you see an organization that is far from dead, concludes Joscelyn.

Yoram Schweitzer, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, told the Post that the argument by the U.S. administration that al-Qaida was on its last legs might have been connected to the U.S. presidential election. Such a definite declaration on al-Qaida’s demise was clearly too soon.

What we are seeing is what happens when the U.S. withdraws from the region and from its war in Afghanistan, said Schweitzer adding that al-Qaida and their affiliates are busy recruiting new people. “So they are long from finished,” he said.

“Detroit is dead and al-Qaeda is alive” is the probable truth. But it is a truth the administration, from its Benghazi coverup to the present, cannot accept. Their eyes will continue to say “yes” while their lips say “no.”  Which will you believe?

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