Last week, Washington issues a global terror alert, shutting down 20 of its embassies and consular sites across Africa and Asia. Staff were evacuated from some sites and flown to the safer destination of Germany; US citizens were put on a general global travel warning; while US President Barack Obama and lawmakers in Washington said they were briefed with intelligence showing the risk of an imminent terror attack at its greatest peak in 13 years since 9/11.
This week, as quick as a weathervane, the mood has swiveled diametrically. The embassies are open again and Commander-in-Chief Obama is enjoying a family holiday on the affluent Massachusetts resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, playing rounds of golf, hitting the beach and “hanging out” with friends…
Over the next seven days, Obama is renting a $7.8-million estate in Chilmark on the west of the “idyllic” island that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, where his celebrity neighbors include actor Ted Danson and singer Carly Simon.
The six-bedroom house, owned by Chicago businessman friend, David Schulte, is situated near the public South Road, which has necessitated the US secret services shutting off access temporarily for when the president and family are going out on daily excursions.
It is even reported that the Obama family dog, Bo, has been specially airlifted in for the fun vacation, presumably to keep daughters Sasha and Malia happy, and the president has had his own personal collection of basketballs dispatched as well so he can shoot some hoops.
It is also speculated that Obama will drop into the landmark Bunch of Grapes bookstore to pick up some leisure reading.
Here is how the local Vineyard Gazette described Obama “teeing off” his holiday this week: “The president took advantage of the clear blue skies Sunday by heading to Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs at around noon on Sunday.
His foursome included aide Marvin Nicholson, former UBS chairman Robert Wolf and White House chef Sam Kass. The president wore a white shirt, khaki shorts and white baseball hat. As he chipped the ball up the green, he overshot by about 15 feet, and his first putt was a miss as well.”
The Gazette report goes on: “After more than five hours of golf, the presidential motorcade headed back up-Island after 5pm… Following golf, the president and First Lady Michelle Obama headed to dinner with friends at the Sweet Life in Oak Bluffs.”
Now ask yourself: does this conform with the behavior and concerns of a US President and Commander-in-Chief who only days ago was telling the rest of the world that his country’s diplomatic outposts and personnel were under an imminent terrorist attack “not seen since 9/11”?
Obama goofing around on a golf course for five hours with his buddies and the exact location of his holiday residence as well as details of itineraries to the restaurant and bookstore does not sound like a state leader anxious about the threat of terrorism.
This is not the only incongruity in the recent purported US global security alarm. When the embassies and consulates were first shut down on the first weekend of this month, most of the 20-odd diplomatic sites were in countries were there is no track record of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorism.
They included Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Madagascar and the remote Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. All the US authorities would say is that they had detected “increased chatter” indicating terrorist plans for attack.
That disclosure was news to the countries concerned with some governments voicing incredulity and annoyance at being put on terrorist alert with all the disruption that that entailed for commerce and tourism.
Sure, some of the affected countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan are credible high risks. But there seems be a suspiciously excessive alarm, both in terms of American media rhetoric and geographical spread of embassies to countries that have no known history of Al Qaeda extremism.
Superficially, to a Western audience, the Middle East may appear to be a uniformly high-risk region, but to those who have lived there, it is just not credible that the US embassy in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman or the UAE would be under threat.
That incongruity makes Washington’s global terror alert sound as if it was aimed at creating an impression among American and Western populations who would be unaware of the regional disparities.
The only violence that emerged over the past week in the above target countries was the usual slaughter in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan from US assassination drones and air strikes. In Iraq, more than 70 people were killed over the weekend by car bombs in mainly Shia districts of the capital, Baghdad.
Those attacks were carried out by Al Qaeda groups that are financed and supported by the US ally, Saudi Arabia, according to former American ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, whose assessment in secret US diplomatic cables was published at the weekend by the Guardian newspaper.
Set against the reality of this massive and routine violence sponsored by the US and its Saudi ally, Washington’s unspecific claims of “increased chatter” about terror threats that didn’t even materialize appear contemptibly mendacious, cynical and odious.
There are more anomalies. Washington claims that the recent drone strikes in Yemen were responding to the ostensible terror threat. But the latest spate of US drone strikes in Yemen – six in the past two weeks resulting in more than 18 deaths – predates the global terror alert and the closure of consular sites by at least a week.
So we have deadly US drone strikes, then a terror alert, followed by embassy closures – and the drone strikes, we are told, are in response to the terror alert. That cause-and-effect sequence is illogical.
The US authorities claim that they were tipped off in part by intercepting phone calls between the top Al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is allegedly based in the remote Afghan-Pakistan tribal region, and Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the commander of the Yemeni franchise known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
For a start, it is doubtful that supposedly arch-terrorists who have eluded capture all these years would be on the phone talking one-to-one about the logistics of an imminent terror spectacular.
Especially when the AQAP second-in-command al Shihri was assassinated a few weeks ago in Yemen by a US drone while talking on his mobile phone, according to US officials.
But, secondly, this alleged liaison between the Al Qaeda core and its Yemeni satellite stands in stark contradiction to repeated official US claims that it has defeated the terrorist leadership with its assassination drone campaign.
Last week, while the US embassies were still closed, President Obama addressed more than 300 US Marines in Camp Pendleton in California and congratulated them for putting Al Qaeda’s leadership “on the run”. “Because of you, the 9/11 generation, we are accomplishing what we set out to do,” Obama said. “The core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the way to defeat.”
Which is it, Mr President? Is Al Qaeda on the run, facing defeat, or is it about to launch another terrorist atrocity on the scale of 9/11?
Less than three months ago, Obama made a major speech at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington DC, in which he gloated that the US military had virtually wiped out Al Qaeda globally.
He told this audience then: “Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us.”
Somehow, it seems, these leaderless operatives have managed to find time while on the run fearing for their own safety to now present an imminent danger to US embassies in more than 20 sites stretching across regions comprising a total distance of more than 6,000 kilometers. That’s some recovery from the jaws of defeat!
Adding up these anomalies and contradictions, including a Commander-in-Chief goofing around on a golf course, it’s a fair deduction that the recent US global terror alert was sheer propaganda theatre. Here are two reasons that offer an alternative explanation.
Firstly, the recent episode of US scaremongering is an effort at re-engineering public consent and acceptance of Washington’s threadbare excuse for its global murder and plunder – the so-called War on Terror – by attempting to remind everyone that the “poor US of A” is once again under attack from crazy extremists. Meanwhile, the US keeps on killing and maiming in several countries like business-as-usual.
Secondly, the global alert comes conveniently at a time when the US government is under pressure from its own population and around the world for its criminal spying operations and rampant lawlessness.
Raising an alert based on “increased chatter” intercepted allegedly by US spy agencies is an expedient way of whitewashing Washington’s global crime empire.
This whitewash was especially urgent in the wake of Russia offering political asylum to the American former CIA analyst, Edward Snowden, whose revelations of police state spying by the American government have been profoundly damaging to Washington’s pretensions of upholding human rights and law.
Even more damaging revelations are expected from Snowden in the coming weeks. What better way to undermine Snowden than for the US to issue an alert appearing to be acting in the service of saving humanity from terrorism?
President Obama in the war bunker fighting global terrorism? Come off it! More like the War-Criminal-in-Chief is vexed at being stuck in a sand bunker at the 18the hole – delayed for dinner and drinks with Michelle and pals.
Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation