WSJ's Stephens Selectively Cites Obama National Security Speech To Attack Embassy Closures

The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens falsely claimed the embassy closures in the Middle East and Africa proved that President Obama had wrongly characterized the current threat of terror in his May speech on national security, when in fact the president specifically referred to threats from al Qaeda affiliates in Africa and the Middle East against diplomatic facilities. 

Bret StephensFollowing the announcement that 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa would remain closed throughout the week with hundreds of additional security forces deployed to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen due to suspected terror threats, conservative media rushed to politicize the effort to protect American lives, dismissing security experts who praised the decision and falsely accusing President Obama of failing to recognize the realities of the war on terror. 

Stephens furthered these attacks in his August 5 Journal column, claiming that the embassy closures revealed “a threat that makes a comprehensive and vivid mockery of everything the president said” in Obama's speech at the National Defense University on May 23. According to Stephens, the purpose of the president's national security speech was “to declare the war on terror won--or won well-enough--and go home,” and the “facts and analysis” Obama used to discuss the nature of al Qaeda were proven “wrong” by the current situation in Yemen and the Middle East.

But Stephens ignored whole portions of Obama's speech in which he identified the very types of threats the intelligence community is working to avert. Obama's speech specifically referred to al Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and Africa -- including Yemen, Libya, and Syria -- as “the most active in plotting against our homeland” and acknowledged they posed “threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad” (emphasis added):

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.  They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston.  They've not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.

Instead, what we've seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates.  From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda's affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula -- AQAP -- the most active in plotting against our homeland.  And while none of AQAP's efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.

Unrest in the Arab world has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria.  But here, too, there are differences from 9/11.  In some cases, we continue to confront state-sponsored networks like Hezbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals.  Other of these groups are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory.  And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based.  And that means we'll face more localized threats like what we saw in Benghazi, or the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives -- perhaps in loose affiliation with regional networks -- launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.


So that's the current threat -- lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists.  This is the future of terrorism. We have to take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them.  But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. 

Stephens concluded by attacking the media's “memory” of the speech, claiming the press had forgotten the realities of Obama's rhetoric in favor of praising the administration. But it's Stephens himself who seems to have forgotten whole sections of the speech that undermine his attack on the administration, which has worked to protect American lives by effectively responding to a type of terror it identified as many as four months ago.