Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol argued that, even though Nigerian extremist Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab only managed to set fire to his own groin, subsequent security measures undertaken by the Obama administration ulltimately represented a success for the Saudi/Yemeni Al Qaeda franchise:
KRISTOL: Closing the embassy in Yemen last night — I mean, I don’t — you know, no one wants State Department officials to be put at risk and all that, but that is a sign of weakness.
Closing the embassy? We can’t protect our own embassy in Yemen, a place we have Special Operations forces, a place we say we’re working with the government on the front lines of the war on terror, and there’s a terror threat and we close the embassy? That’s a victory for Al Qaida. This last week has been a victory for Al Qaida in that region, I’m afraid. […]
Britt Hume agreed:
HUME: I might say, you know, we keep talking about this failed attack, this failed attempt. I mean, it surely didn’t succeed on the scale on which it was intended, but look at the consequences.
It set in motion all kinds of security procedures which — for several days which made absolutely no sense, by the way, at U.S. airports. Certainly, we would not be closing the embassy in Yemen in the absence of these events. Yemen is — was — a month ago was a hotbed. It’s a hotbed today.
You know, if I were the Al Qaida people, I think Bill’s right. They could look at this as a success. This was — this was an attack that didn’t succeed on the scale it was expected to but did succeed.
It is true that one of the goals of terrorism is to elicit a wild over-reaction from the target government, resulting in greater publicity and a larger pool of potential recruits for the terrorists’ cause, and so any response has to be balanced against that. For a great example of how not to react, we can look to the Bush administration’s “war on terror”: The promulgation of an existential struggle, preventive war, the adoption of secret detention and torture, all of which have proved to be disastrous for U.S. security and a propaganda and a recruiting bonanza for Al Qaeda and affiliated extremists. As committed supporters of the “war on terror” approach, Hume and Kristol have little choice but to ignore those consequences, which makes their little freak-out over some flaming underpants and a temporarily closed embassy all the more ridiculous. You really couldn’t ask for a clearer example of the cynicism that underlies Kristol’s and Hume’s “analysis,” though. So committed are they to scoring political points that they’re willing to represent failed attack as a success simply because it resulted in some tighter security measures.
On a related note, I think most people have come to understand that the “war on terror” is not a useful frame for understanding the threat of Islamic extremism or the policies required to deal with it. It is, however, a useful frame for Republicans winning elections. Which is why, despite the concept having been discredited among national security analysts and policymakers, Fox News and conservative activists continue to push it. But in doing so, they’re functioning as some of Al Qaeda’s best publicists.