Sunday, August 11, 2013

The True Power of Terrorism

Finally, after two weeks, most U.S. diplomatic posts throughout the Middle East and northern parts of Africa that were closed amidst nebulous terrorist threats will reopen this week. After U.S. intelligence picked up phone conversations between two high-ranking members of al Qaeda (conveniently so, as now we have specific justification for why NSA and other U.S. intel groups do the things they do), these diplomatic posts were promptly shuttered - in some instances, such as in Yemen, U.S. diplomats were flown out of the country and into safer territory. It has been remarkable to see how quickly the State Department reacted to these threats, and how seriously they took them. And therefore, perhaps, what we've seen over the past two weeks is simply how effective terrorism still is and how relevant it will continue to be going forward.

Once word came down from U.S. intelligence agencies that there was a vague, but credible threat coming from al Qaeda regarding an "imminent" attack on U.S. diplomatic soil abroad, there was no doubt that the Obama Administration was going to take every precaution necessary. As we saw with the fallout from the Benghazi attacks two years ago, the Republican party likes to use President Obama and his Administration as a scapegoat when things go awry overseas (that's the last partisan statement I make, I promise). However, no additional details were ever really provided - where, when, or how the attack would take place were never learned.

Still, this was enough to significantly hinder diplomatic efforts in countries all across the Middle East where, arguably, diplomatic efforts are for now most important. In Yemen, where the threat seemed most severe, a drone campaign of unprecedented magnitude began. As reported in the New York Times today, nine drone strikes have killed a total of 38 militants in Yemen since news of the threats came out two weeks ago. While it is impressive that such a campaign could have so much success so quickly, there is undoubtedly a new strain put on U.S.-Yemen relations because of it. Last Tuesday, the Yemeni government issued a statement denouncing what they seemed to believe was an overreaction that would only play into the egos and abilities of terrorists. Further, Yemen has appeared unhappy with the U.S. over the drone strikes, and what seems to be a lack of trust coming from the U.S. that Yemeni intelligence and military are capable of protecting the country.

And after all of this, there has been no attack.

Ayman al-Zawahiri with Osama bin Laden, before his death in 2011

What does this say? Jihadists all over the world have been parading around the internet with a braggadocio rarely, if ever seen. Senior-level al Qaeda members pick up the phone and within a day or two, nineteen U.S. diplomatic posts are shut down. Understandably, this would play into the egos of radicals all over the world. And perhaps that is precisely the point. With the growing severity of terrorist cells in other places, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabaab in Somalia. With the success of the drone program, the general consensus for quite some time in the U.S. has been that the power of al Qaeda terrorists scattered across the Middle East was waning. Whether there was a planned attack or not, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, is not stupid. There is a reason he is so shrouded in mystery, and that is because he knows better than to pick up the phone and discuss significant terrorist matters with anybody on open lines. That he and arguably the second most senior al Qaeda member, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, discussed such matters in this manner indicates that perhaps all this was was al Qaeda flexing their muscles and reminding the world that they are still relevant.

For now, let's hope that's all it was. And let's continue to take intelligence that comes in as credible, and act as cautiously as we can. After all, that's where the true power of terrorism lies - we will now forever be kept on our toes by the likes of those trying to harm us.

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