Contrary to Obama’s ‘Narrative,’ Al-Qaeda Threat Getting Worse, Say GOP Critics

Patrick Goodenough | August 12, 2013 | 4:09am EDT
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Yemeni soldiers inspect a car at a checkpoint on a street leading to the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013. While 18 other U.S. diplomatic missions closed because of a terrorist threat reopened on Sunday, the embassy in Yemen will remain closed. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

( – The al-Qaeda terrorist threat against America is “getting worse, not better,” it’s “deceptive” of President Obama to suggest otherwise, and a lack of U.S. leadership is contributing to the problem, two senior Republican lawmakers charged on Sunday.

Speaking on the day when the State Department reopened 18 out of 19 diplomatic missions that had been shuttered for a week over a specific terrorist threat, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) both took issue with the administration’s practice of differentiating between “core al-Qaeda” and affiliates.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, McCain accused the administration of “semantic gymnastics” while McCaul on NBC’s Meet the Press said it was making a “distinction without a difference. It’s all al-Qaeda.”

“And it’s spreading,” McCaul continued. “It’s getting worse, not better. And I think the American people need to know that. And I believe it’s very deceptive for this president to give a narrative that is pretty much over when, in fact, what I see is a spider web throughout northern Africa into Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan. This threat is getting worse, not better.”

Obama maintains that “core al-Qaeda” – the Pakistan-based group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri since the death of Osama bin Laden – has been severely weakened even as affiliates in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere still pose a significant threat.

He made the point again during a White House press conference Friday, saying that “this tightly-organized and relatively centralized al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 has been broken apart and is very weak and does not have a lot of operational capacity.”

The president said it was “entirely consistent” to say that that “core al-Qaeda” had been weakened while at the same time, “to say we still have these regional organizations like AQAP that can pose a threat, that can drive, potentially, a truck bomb into an embassy wall and can kill some people.”

“We are not going to completely eliminate terrorism,” Obama said. “What we can do is to weaken it and to strengthen our partnerships in such a way that it does not pose the kind of horrible threat that we saw on 9/11.”

Bahraini police man a new checkpoint near the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, one of 19 American diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa ordered closed last week following terror threats (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

The threat prompting the closure of the embassies and consulates was reportedly linked to intercepted communications between al-Zawahiri and leaders of affiliates including AQAP, the Yemen-based cell calling itself al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“We got a lot of intelligence from high levels in al-Qaeda, both with their leadership and also in the Arabian Peninsula,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, commented on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday.

McCaul said Obama’s assertion that “al-Qaeda is on its heels” was a “very dangerous narrative.”

“I get the same threat briefings that the president of the United States does, and I’m not seeing his rhetoric meeting reality.”

McCaul said while he favored the use of drone-launched missiles to target terrorists, “drone strikes are not going to kill an ideology. And I think this is a war of ideology. It’s going to be a long-term struggle that we all have to be very adult about. And it’s going to be around for quite some time, and the threat, again, is not getting less. It’s getting worse, and we need to deal with it in a responsible way and not put our head in the sand.”

McCain also challenged the line of a diminished threat.

“You can’t say you have destroyed, quote, ‘core al-Qaeda’ – by the way, that’s semantic gymnastics, which is remarkable – you can’t say that and at the same time have to close embassies and consulates all over,” he said. “Look, al-Qaeda is on the rise, they have continued to penetrate.”

“Al-Qaeda is strengthening every day in every way because of a lack of American leadership and policy. The only American policy that I can think of that President Obama is practicing – one, he’s not [President George W.] Bush, and second, that the United States is withdrawing.”

When actors in the region believe that there is no American leadership or policy, he said, then you are going to see extremist elements on the rise – and clearly, they are throughout the Middle East. The action of closing these embassies shows that they’re able to mount threats everywhere in the Middle East against the United States.”

The State Department announced on Friday that all but one of the 19 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa that had been closed for a week would reopen on Sunday. It said the one that remains closed is the embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, due to “ongoing concerns about a threat stream indicating the potential for terrorist attacks emanating from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

The U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan also remains closed. That mission was closed late last week and all non-essential U.S. diplomatic personnel withdrawn because of what the department said was an unconnected, “credible” terror threat.

“We will continue to evaluate the threats to Sana’a and Lahore and make subsequent decisions about the re-opening of those facilities based on that information,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “We will also continue to evaluate information about these and all of our posts and to take appropriate steps to best protect the safety of our personnel, American citizens traveling overseas, and visitors to our facilities.”

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