The United States as Global Midget: Closing Embassies and Running Scared

You wouldn’t know that the United States was the globe’s sole superpower from the administration decision to close a score of embassies and consulates in response to possible terrorist attacks. American facilities already stand apart because they usually are fortresses, disrupting entire neighborhoods. Now Washington says it is unable to defend what are among many cities’ most secure buildings.

One can understand shuttering one diplomatic post in response to a specific threat and using the time to enhance security at the location—or perhaps to move operations elsewhere. However, it seems unlikely that the facilities in Amman, Muscat, Riyadh, Tripoli, and elsewhere will be markedly safer next Monday when they are slated to reopen. And if al-Qaeda members really are prepared to strike, they aren’t likely to give up and go home over the weekend.

In an odd way the administration has allowed the terrorists to win, as the saying goes. Reports of threats from a movement said to be on the run caused the world’s dominant military power to cower in fear. Caution is a virtue, but announcing to everyone on earth that Washington is unable to defend its global presence is a sign of weakness.

More fundamentally, the frenetic closures demonstrate the underlying failure of U.S. anti-terrorism policy. Washington has done well damaging al-Qaeda and rolling up largely incompetent terrorist wannabes in America. But neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations have managed to take the target sign off of Americans.

Nothing justifies terrorist attacks, but they largely reflect anger directed at U.S. foreign policy. America’s Mideast involvement going back to the ouster of elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 has openly sacrificed the liberty of Arab peoples to multiple U.S. government objectives. No wonder America often is seen as an enemy.

President Barack Obama’s blundering in Egypt demonstrates that nothing has changed. The administration backed dictator Hosni Mubarak against his people, courted the new Islamist leaders as they moved in an authoritarian and sectarian direction, and then endorsed the coup which has brought back much of the old authoritarian Mubarak elite. Thus, Washington did much to earn the hatred of every Egyptian. If the military pushes the Muslim Brotherhood into violent opposition, Americans are likely to end up on that group’s target list.

The U.S. needs a two-track approach to terrorism. Kill or incapacitate those seeking to harm Americans. Stop pursuing policies which cause more people to want to harm Americans. Unfortunately, shuttering diplomatic facilities around the world advances neither of these ends.