In the news this weekend were a number of stories about the shuttering of US Embassies in the Middle East in response to a specific, but unspecified, threat. The decision to close the official face of the US in these countries is a legitimate choice made by the administration for any number of reasons. It doesn’t matter if it was inspired by an honest desire to protect the lives of those Americans and foreign nationals working in the embassy, or a political lesson to avoid a repeat of the Benghazi incident, but what does that choice say about the US and the current war on terror in which we are now so deeply engaged?
Terrorism is a tool used to challenge the legitimacy and authority of a sovereign state by those without the strength to do so directly. When they are able to overtly influence the actions of that state they have achieved a victory. According to the Delaware Criminal Justice Council [i] terrorism traces its origins back to the Zealots of the 1st century AD. When a small group of Jewish activists killed Romans and destroyed Roman property in the occupied lands now known as Israel and Palestine. It seems that tradition continues even to today.
When the administration and the President tells the American public we have decimated a terror network he sets up the false expectation we can stop this terrorism from happening. Terrorist networks are like the Hydra, as long as the underlying environment remains constant, when one head is cut off, two more grow back. In the case of religious terrorism, where the driving force are extremists playing on the belief that America is the great Satan to recruit their followers, the question becomes how does America change the underlying environment without compromising the fundamental principles upon which it is founded?