President Obama has been getting unwarranted criticism for over-reacting to a terrorist threat by closing U.S. embassies across the Middle East last week (all but the embassy in Yemen have since reopened). Actually, if leaks are accurate about how the NSA intercepted a conference call among senior al-Qaeda leaders, the administration acted prudently to disrupt their plot. The administration also is right to step up drone strikes in Yemen to try to further degrade al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate organization that was allegedly going to carry out the attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East.
I’m more worried not about administration over-reaction but about its under-reaction to the last successful attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission–the one in Benghazi almost a year ago, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador and several of his colleagues. Justice still has not been done because of the administration’s puzzling insistence–lost amid all the controversy over the talking points about whether it was a terrorist attack or not–to treat this as a criminal offense, not what it was: an act of war. The New York Times reports today, buried deep in a long story:
Investigators have made only halting progress on the case, leading some F.B.I. agents in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to voice frustration that there have been no arrests so far, the officials said. Capturing the suspects will most likely require significant negotiations between the State Department and the Libyan government over who will conduct any raids and where the suspects will be tried. The military’s Joint Special Operations Command has drafted plans to capture or kill the suspects, but for now that option has been set aside, Pentagon officials said.
This is repeating the same mistake the Reagan administration made after the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and that the Clinton administration and Bush administrations made after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. There are always arguments for inaction, some of which look compelling at the time. But failing to retaliate effectively for attacks on U.S. targets overseas inevitably comes back to haunt us because it sends a message of American weakness. It is well past time for the administration to unleash JSOC to capture or kill the men responsible for killing an American ambassador and destroying an American diplomatic post.