Weakened to the point of defeat?

Apologies for the lack of blogging but, in my defence, I have been busy – and writing too. I now write for The Student Journals; a few articles of mine should be appearing on their site soon, including a review of my time at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was also a nervous build up to A-level results day, but now I can safely say that I am going to the University of Warwick, my first choice. What a relief. I’ll be starting my course in Politics and International Relations in late September; despite the slight nervousness, I cannot wait.

Speaking of IR, there have been some interesting developments recently. The US’s decision to close almost all its Middle Eastern embassies and consulates, as well as to issue travel warnings to its citizens, has raised many questions. Not least, what was the nature of the threat? Most probably, seeing as al-Qaeda was involved, some sort of bombing – that’s how they work, after all. It does, however, seem odd that this information cannot be released. It is also odd that the US deemed its embassies incapable of keeping safe, especially in an area where they are almost always under some threat. This suggests that the threat was more serious than any have been for a long time.

Secondly, will the announcement that the threat was uncovered with the use of the NSA’s communication surveillance programs turn the tide of negative public opinion about Prism and XKeystone? It does prove that it does find high-level intelligence (the intercept involved al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s top operative). In a week when Obama issued new guidance which limits the scope of the NSA’s snooping, the administration will be hoping that the issue will finally be put to bed.

The episode was such good proof of the benefits of surveillance, in fact, that some have suggested that the government has overstated the level of threat in order to save face. This is probably another barmy conspiracy theory; closing embassies in the most sensitive part of the world is not a decision to take lightly.

There is also something else which makes it unlikely that the US is overstating the threat. Just a few weeks ago they declared al-Qaeda to be weakened to the point of defeat. The situation rather shows that this is not true. Al-Qaeda may have been weakened in Afghanistan and Pakistan but it is strong in Yemen and gaining affiliates in places as far away as Nigeria and Somalia. It would be folly to pretend otherwise. However, the threat it poses has changed dramatically since the 9/11 attacks which have defined the global politics of the last decade. Crucially, it now acts locally rather than targeting the West. Unfortunately, that is little comfort to the embassy staff in Sana’a or Tripoli. 

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