By John A. Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
In the frenzied overreaction to the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253, this morning's rant by Frances Fragos Townsend stands out. Townsend is a former assistant to President George W. Bush, who chaired the Homeland Security Council from 2004 to 2008. She should know better. But in today's Washington Post, she opines that "the American people are understandably fed up" with Yemen, which harbors the terrorists that equipped dim Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and she suggests that we go to war in yet another Muslim nation.
That would make three: Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan. Four if you count our aerial strikes in Pakistan. Five if, as some suggest, we bomb Iran.
I don't know what type of war Townsend is demanding. She says we should give Yemen an "ultimatum" before the "international community" goes in to "clean it up." But in my experience, when the "international community" does its cleaning, it's generally the U.S. Marine Corps and Army grunts who lead the way. Donning her figurative body armor—since I don't expect that she is prepared to join the first wave of U.S. troops as they go ashore—she declares: "The time for polite diplomacy is long past."
We will get to how "polite" we are in a moment. But for now, let's look at this from al Qaeda's perspective. Hounded and pummeled, and unable to launch the kind of spectacular terrorist attack it used to be known for, an al Qaeda coven in a global backwater takes advantage of Western greed and laziness and gets a lonely, crazed Nigerian onto an airplane. He fails to detonate his explosive device, and sets himself on fire.
This frantic failure takes place some 10 days after a string of successful U.S.-aided aerial and ground attacks on terrorists in Yemen claim the lives of more than 50 terrorists and militants. It was a sorry bit of retaliation until, remarkably, Americans transformed this bungling—an embarrassment to any potent terrorist group—into an al Qaeda triumph.
Once again, we are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Fear is what the terrorists are after. And who is whipping up our fear? Americans! Overreaction is what the terrorists are counting on. And who is screaming for overreaction? The American media, and partisan commentators like Townsend.
Has everyone forgotten that fine nest of al Qaeda terrorists that we just wiped out in Yemen? Or the good work that our spies and drones and special operation forces are doing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa? Does no one comprehend how sources of intelligence and the quiet support of Arab regimes could be shut down by a Western invasion or bombing of a third Muslim nation? Or how many more crazed loners will rally to the side of radical Islam by the internationally televised spectacle of U.S. forces causing the unfortunate but required "collateral damage" in yet another Muslim civilian population?
Yemen is a wild, desolate country, with many ungoverned areas. Our "polite" strategy, in recent years, has been to enlist Yemen's government in the fight against al Qaeda. We give them money and military and technological assistance, and they help us find the bad guys, who we kill. It is what we are trying to do in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and what helped make the surge successful in Iraq. Can the U.S. apply more diplomatic pressure? Perhaps. But this is a delicate business since, unsurprisingly, the average Muslim citizen of these countries has a healthy suspicion that what the United States really wants is to boost Israel and control Middle East oil.
We are already fighting a war in Yemen—and in Pakistan, Sudan, and Somalia. It is a secret war that seems to be showing some signs of success and requires that we show discipline and shrewdness and intelligence. So by all means let's trash our success with a fit of vain, partisan chest-puffing.
Long ago, Osama bin Laden read us for the saps we sometimes are. The way to beat him is with brains, not empty ultimatums, or counterproductive "cleaning."
What kind of name is "Fragos," anyway? It sounds foreign to me. Has anyone seen her actual birth certificate?