It was a wise decision by Secretary of State John Kerry to close 20 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa, evacuate U.S. personnel from Yemen, warn of a new threat to air travel and order stepped-up drone attacks on al-Qaida in Yemen when presented with evidence of a new threat.
His decision stands in stark contrast to the apparent indifference of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who failed to take action when warned of threats to U.S. personnel and facilities in Libya that preceded last fall’s attack in Benghazi resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Underlining the seriousness of the new threat, Britain also evacuated its embassy in Yemen.
The precautionary measures were apparently taken because of a communication, intercepted by the National Security Agency, from al-Qaida in Pakistan to al-Qaida in Yemen calling for a major attack.
The New York Times reported that the highly unusual communication was between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida’s leader, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The intercept proves the value of NSA’s surveillance of foreign communications, separate from its massive and undesirable collection of domestic telephone data.
Secretary Kerry’s actions were a welcome if sobering relief from the administration’s often repeated but transparently false claims to have all but defeated al-Qaida.
There will be a threat to embassies and U.S. travelers in that part of the world as long as radical elements are active there.
The U.S. government has no choice but to take this reality seriously, be alert to threats and respond accordingly.