American caution or cowardice in closing its Mideast embassies?

Closure of US embassies in the Middle East

Yesterday Interpol issued a global security alert (h/t Reality) after a series of Al-Qaeda-linked prison breaks occurred in various locations in the Middle East.

The State Department travel alert was based on the same intelligence that prompted it to close 21 US embassies and consulates on Sunday, Aug. 4, chiefly those in the Muslim world, a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Britain said it would close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” the Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month which ends on Wednesday.

France also plans to close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said.

Prison breaks took place in Pakistan on July 31 in a Taliban-led operation, and in Iraq at the Abu Ghraib prison overnight on July 22. Some 500 convicts, among them senior al-Qaida operatives, escaped from Abu Ghraib.

More than 1,100 inmates broke out of a prison on the outskirts of Benghazi on July 27.

Interpol also noted that August was the anniversary of several violent attacks over the past years, including in Mumbai and Nairobi.

As reported above, the US announced on Friday that it was closing its embassies across the Middle East on Sunday (today) in the face of threats from Al Qaeda:

US embassies that would normally be open this Sunday – including those in Tel Aviv, Baghdad and Cairo – will be closed that day because of unspecified security concerns, the US State Department said on Thursday.

“There is a significant threat stream and we’re reacting to it,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told ABC News, describing the threat as “more specific” than previous threats.

CBS News reported that the embassy closings were tied to US intelligence about an al-Qaeda plot against US diplomatic posts in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. CBS said the intelligence did not mention a specific location.

“The Department of State has instructed certain US embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4th,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters at her daily briefing. “Security considerations have led us to take this precautionary step.”

Harf declined to detail the “security considerations” or name the embassies and consulates that would be closed, but a senior State Department official told reporters later they were those that would normally have been open on Sunday.

A quick search of the State Department website showed that those included several US missions in the Muslim world, including the embassies in Abu Dhabi, Baghdad and Cairo.

CBS News said US embassies would also be closed in Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

I had two immediate reactions on reading this news. First: the utter stupidity of the announcement. Why on earth was the US (and other Western countries) publicly announcing these closures? Do they think Al Qaeda operatives can’t read? Did it not occur to them that if the terrorists know that the embassies are closed on Sunday, they will simply move their terrorist act to another day of the week?

Secondly, why on earth would the Americans close their embassy in Israel? Can they think no further than the end of their noses and take into consideration that although Israel is technically in the Middle East, Al Qaeda is hardly operational in the middle of Tel Aviv?

Sometimes the blundering American bureaucracy simply stumps me. They make Israeli bureaucrats appear paragons of efficiency by comparison.

Besides the possible security bungle in announcing the embassy closures ahead of time, Daniel Pipes calls the embassy closures “Wimpitude”:

(1) Don’t know about you, but I find this pre-emptive cringing unworthy of a great country, even humiliating. Why do we allow a bunch of extremist thugs to close us down, rather than the reverse? For what purpose to we pay for the world’s best military and largest intelligence services if not to protect ourselves from this sort of threat?

(2) This timidity fits into a larger pattern that I have long found reprehensible. Here’s a comment of mine from 1998 I should like to resurrect, that responded to the double bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania almost exactly fifteen years ago, on Aug. 7, 1998:

It’ll be a happy day when American embassies are again built in busy downtown intersections out of normal materials – and not, as they are now, bunkers located in distant lots surrounded by high fences. Such a change will only be possible when the safety of Americans depends not on walls, metal detectors and Marine guards, but on the deterrence established by years of terrible retribution against anyone who so much as harms a single American citizen.

Deterrence, not shuttering the bunkers we call embassies, is the solution. Maybe Obama’s successor will understand this imperative.

Wimpiness (or wimpitude) is a very accurate description of America’s foreign policy altogether under Obama.

The writer and author Erick Stakelback takes a similar view in NRO and adds:

1) The fact that this is reportedly an al-Qaeda plot shows once again that AQ is alive and well globally, contrary to President Obama’s ludicrous and willfully misleading statements over the past two years that it is “on the run” and “nearing defeat.”

[…]

2) What happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 — and the chaotic, shameful cover-up that has followed — provided an enticing blueprint for Islamic jihadists. If you can’t hit America in a dramatic way on its own soil, hit symbolic government targets abroad, like embassies, that are lightly guarded, and watch the U.S. government go weak in the knees and scramble to respond.

[…]

3) A key point in all this that has been overlooked is that it isn’t just al-Qaeda that is calling for assaults on American embassies. Last week, a top Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt called for a “siege” of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. This is a big deal.

[…]

Incidentally, a petition is currently circulating demanding that the White House officially designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. It has already garnered more than 100,000 signatures, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for the Obama administration to turn away from its disastrous, pro-Brotherhood policies.

I wonder how long it will take for America both to come to its senses and to restore its deterrence after Obama steps down.

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5 Responses to American caution or cowardice in closing its Mideast embassies?

  1. ealha3 says:

    The above report and commentary again ignores the primary cause for the failed policies (foreign and domestic) of this administration. We have at the head of our government a person totally unqualified in, but not limited to, experience, intelligence, historical knowledge, political and economic philosophy and other necessary elements of basic managerial operations. It is foolish to expect anything more than what we are now experiencing in our foreign and domestic failures. That said, the damage is compounded by critics addressing the symptoms rather than these basic causes. that would suggest at least an attempt to isolate the damage being caused by administration’s incompetence by focusing on agencies and their leadership primarily responsible for security, again, including but not limited to the US State Department and Department of Defense. One question not asked is why US embassies are less secure and must be shut down than virtually every other international embassy in these areas? Anyone who has travelled abroad can attest to the fact that our embassies are fortresses designed to survive what is tantamount to a direct nuclear attack. Having to close down our embassies and surrender to a threat by what we term as an unconventional military force is an admission that this administration has caused America to be reduced to less than a third world military power that can now be coward to submission merely by a diffused set of phone calls and emails between a few radical terrorists – and all we can do about it is wait and hope for a better result in the next election.

    • anneinpt says:

      Good points Elliott, especially your remark about US embassies being so fortified and yet they are still being closed down. I reckon this over-reaction is in reaction to the negligence of the Benghazi attack, as well as to Obama’s obvious ineptitude.

      • ealha3 says:

        … note – On Sunday – when the attacks were supposed to take place and the Security Council, State Dept. and Defense Depts. were meeting – Obama was on the golf course!!!! So much for his sincerity about the seriousness of the threats – Either he is truly an incompetent dummy or he’s creating his own phony scare to distract from the real scandals he has to deal with but ignores….

  2. Reality says:

    it just proves that when faced with a terrorist threat they (US & most of the european countries) will do everything in their power to avoid confrontation to the point eventually of closing their own countries down. They have let the terrorrists win. We should (Israel) should act like Al quaeda-we’d get more respect.

    • anneinpt says:

      I agree that the Americans are letting the terrorists win by allowing them to, well, terrorize them into closing their embassies. However I disagree that israel should act like Al Qaeda. All we should do is act in our own self-interest with dignity and confidence, and not be so scared of our own shadow or too scared of foreign countries and the UN.

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