The Terror Alert and the Embassies

Article excerpt

The United States is right to take maximum precautions, but it can't shut down its diplomatic functions for prolonged periods.

The Obama administration's decision to close nearly two dozen embassies and issue a worldwide travel alert was difficult to quarrel with. We obviously do not have access to the intelligence that was the basis for the extraordinary closures, but American officials who do claim that they uncovered one of the most serious plots against United States and other Western interests since Sept. 11, 2001.

According to The New York Times, officials intercepted electronic communications in which the leader of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Ayman al- Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden, ordered Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of the terrorist group's most lethal branch in Yemen, to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday. That day, the State Department extended the closing of 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and North Africa through at least this coming Saturday.

The information was credible enough that several European countries also closed embassies in the Middle East. It also was credible enough that Republican members of Congress who are among President Obama's harshest critics on security and other issues have endorsed the administration's response. Representative Peter King, the New York Republican who is chairman of the House subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, told ABC News that "the government would have been totally negligent if it did not take the actions taken."

Still, both the administration's acts, and the Republicans' response are shaped by the recent political past. The administration, excoriated by Republicans for underestimating the deteriorating security environment in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the killing of four American diplomats last Sept. …