The Obama administration, citing an ominous increase in online chatter in the terrorist community, has closed down 19 diplomatic posts in Muslim countries, and this morning (5 August) the State Department revealed that they will stay closed because of the continuing threat.
It is perfectly possible that there the CIA has detected a credible threat. Unfortunately, saying it no longer makes it so. We have absolutely no reason to believe anything said by this administration, which is, if anything, more prone to simulation and dissimulation than its predecessors, though Jimmie Carter told perhaps the greatest whopper in history, when he declared to the American people, "I will never lie to you." It is not safe to assume that White House and State Department spokesmen always lie--that would make it much easier to sift through their statements--but on balance it is never a good idea to take anything they say at face value.
Over the weekend, James Fallows, making a final appearance on NPR for the near future, expressed a note of caution, when he pointed out the convenience of the timing. For weeks, the administration has been under attack for its unconstitutional and illegal surveillance of American citizens (not that the Bush administration was any better), and then, pulling the Al Quaeda rabbit out of the hat, it reveals a credible terrorist threat unmasked by the very techniques that are being criticized.
James Fallows has hardly any greater credibility than the US State Department, but he has a point, and it was given greater credibility when Saxby Chambliss was tapped to give the Republican Party line. Predictably comparing the internet chatter of recent days with the traffic before 9/11, Chambliss pointed out the error of Republican colleagues who wanted to limit government surveillance.
Even if Senator Chambliss belief in the threat is sincere and even if the threat is objectively true, the truth of his statement could only be an accident. The senator has been deceived by his party and by every administration in power, and there is no reason to suppose that he has suddenly been wised up.
If the administration cooked up the plot from the usual available information that overwhelms our national security efforts, they have the great advantage of being in a win-win situation. Anything that happens will justify their security measures--and their surveillance--but if nothing happens, they can take credit for having secured our embassies and consulates.
[Added:] The drone strikes in Yemen seem more like a propaganda than a military move: The US has been repeatedly striking targets in Yemen, but apparently without any effect. It is our fall-back position. There is always plenty of chatter from and about Yemen, and it can be used any day of the year to justify either panic or aggression.
If there were a rational journalist in America, he should be asking the administration one basic question: Why is our reaction to the "threat of terrorism" confined to Muslim countries? After all, if Islam is a religion of peace, whose adherents have been with us since the beginning of our history (as Obama has claimed), then why are terrorists allowed to operate freely in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere? Is it because all Islamic governments are hopelessly incompetent? Or is it because they--like so many Muslims everywhere including in the United States-- find terrorism against the West acceptable and even laudable. I suppose the honest answer would be both. There is no such thing as an incompetent Islamic government--the comparative successes of Turkey, Egypt, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq are the exceptions that prove the rule. Whatever stability those regimes have enjoyed stemmed from their efforts to repress Islam.
If you want to understand the Islamic approach, news stories every day provide the answer. A few days ago, serious Muslims gunned down their Sufi co-religionists in Dagostan. Why? Because Sufi Islam, who has produced mystical writings and poetry, is insufficiently stupid and violent. Then there is the trial of Major Nidal Hassan, the unrepentant Fort Hood murderer, who sees nothing dishonorable or immoral in going to work for the US Army, swearing an oath and continuing still to take a paycheck, but kills his own colleagues in cold blood because they might pose a threat to Muslims he has never met in countries he has never visited. As our Jewish friends might say, "This is a religion?"
But if it is a mistake to believe anything that comes out of our government, it is equally a mistake to imagine a conspiracy against our liberties. As Sam Francis used to point out, a conspiracy is something secret, but these people--government careerists, trilateralists, contributors to Foreign Affairs, et al.--have never made any secret of their ambitions: to domesticate the American people and make them willing to accept a peace-and-profits-at-any price system of global security. All that stands in their way are the roughly 100 million nut jobs (you and me, dear readers) who would prefer to be left alone.
As the late Dr. Francis also used to point out, no one has ever maintained his security by asking to be left alone.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.