With no successful foreign attack on the United States since 9/11, and repeated assurances that al-Qaida is splintered and its ability to commit a major attack diminished, the suggestion of closer relations between terror leaders in Pakistan and Yemen is disturbing. It is also a timely reminder of the undiminished appetite of radicals to inflict pain and death on Americans.
The implication of closer ties flows from the recent closure of American embassies in the Middle East and Africa and the travel warning issued to Americans. It was based on intercepted communications between Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, and Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Those communications included an order by al-Zawahiri to launch an attack.
Some critics contend the Obama administration overreacted to the threat because of the criticism it took following the attack last year in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Others say the closure of embassies and travel warning were a ruse that was meant to snuff out criticism of the National Security Agency’s program of tracking email addresses and telephone numbers.
It is certainly possible that the administration overreacted, though in fairness, it would have been vilified if it hadn’t acted and another attack occurred. There are dangers to overreacting, including a loss of stature and encouragement to terrorists. But there is a worse price for failing to act when information is available.
As to the canard that the administration was simply seeking to boster its surveillance program, enough members of Congress from both parties have endorsed the administration’s action to downplay the criticism.
That doesn’t mean the surveillance programs aren’t troubling. But, if you believe the responsible sources, the threats to the country are there.
The question is whether they are growing. Closer ties between the Pakistan and Yemen al-Qaida organizations would certainly suggest that possibility, especially given that al-Wuhayshi’s growing stature may lead a loose group of terror cells to give more attention to planning attacks in the West.
There is no going back. Even 12 years after the 9/11 attacks, the nation and its leaders have to remain vigilant. That may cause occasional overreactions – or not – and that vigilance infrastructure requires intelligent oversight, but we already know what can happen when we don’t pay attention to terrorists bent on achieving their goals.