The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 11, 2013

Embassy closings raise questions

WHY IT MATTERS: It's not a matter of showing weakness in strength but weakness in our allies to help protect our diplomatic missions

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Heeding what it deemed to be serious threats involving al Qaeda, U.S. embassies and consulates were closed last week prompting criticism that we were appearing afraid.

Britain, France and others closed their embassies in Yemen, where al Qaeda is based. U.S. closures spread further to include Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Madagascar, Rwanda and Sudan.

The New York Times reported the closures followed the interception of electronic communication between some of the “big guys” in al Qaeda that included specific timing for the attack.

And CNN reported that those threats, tied with the end of Ramadan and several major prison breaks in the region all lead to the U.S. decision to shut down the diplomatic missions.

Our allies in the Yemen government didn’t think it was a good idea saying it “serves the interests of extremists and undermines exceptional cooperation” between Yemen and international community fighting terrorists.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-TX, said the closure sends the wrong signal, proving that “terrorism works.” Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, reportedly said “Why do we allow a bunch of extremist thugs to close us down, rather than the reverse? For what purpose do we pay for the world’s best military and largest intelligence services if not to protect ourselves from this sort of threat?”

Former ambassador Ronald Neumann told NPR that the closures may be a reaction to the attack last year in Benghazi and the resulting controversy surrounding it. “Politicizing Benghazi in the feeding frenzy of the Congress has made this issue of security so sensitive that this and other administrations will continue to overreact and keep diplomats from actually making the judgments on the ground that they need to make,” said Neumann who now runs the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Last week, the Lebanon Daily Star reported that the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon was accelerating its security measures because of the deteriorating situation there. Reportedly an American security team was arriving to boost protection for the embassy and the diplomats working there.

And that’s the key. Do we have enough forces and joint cooperation regionally to adequately protect our diplomatic missions abroad?

It is significant to note that the U.S. closed its embassies in Rwanda and Burundi known for its civil unrest as well as Madagascar and Mauritius which haven’t really been a security concern. However, the local power to assist in helping prevent any attacks or provide security has been weak.

And Benghazi has shown we have inadequate American security forces available ourselves to protect against a large-scale attack.

That doesn’t mean bring in more U.S. Marines. The primary mission of the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MSG) is to “to prevent the compromise of classified material vital to the national security of the United States.” The state department makes it clear that the primary protection of the embassy is the job of the host government. The State Department will often bolster this protection by hiring residents of the country as private guards.

America has become increasingly unpopular throughout many regions including those where we once were considered allies.

The most recent example of that is in Egypt where the U.S. is criticized equally by the Muslim Brotherhood and its backers and the supporters of the new military regime who believe the U.S. actively supported the Morsi government.

If you can’t count on a stable and predictable protective force from the host government or the willingness of nationals to lay down their lives for U.S. personnel, the U.S. government has no choice but to err on the side of caution in the face of pending threats.

And this caution is indicative of our foreign policy missteps to date. So maybe there is good reason to be afraid until we can win back our allies regarding our mission.