The Latest Republican Talking Point on Al Qaeda Is Spectacularly Wrong

Al-Jazeera/ZUMA Press

On Friday, the Obama administration announced the temporary closure of more than 20 embassies and consulates, and the State Department issued a global travel alert warning of potential terrorist attack, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. The closures and warning were prompted by intercepted communications indicating an Al Qaeda threat linked to Yemen.

“This is probably one of the most specific and credible threats I’ve seen, perhaps since 9/11—and that’s why everybody’s taking this so seriously,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), House Homeland Security chairman, said on Face the Nation on Sunday. Other Republicans, however, took things a step further during the Sunday talk shows.

“This is a wake-up call,” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said on This Week. “Al Qaeda is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11, because it’s mutated and spread, and can come at us in different directions.” Jim DeMint, Heritage Foundation president and former tea party senator, made similar comments on Fox News Sunday: “Well, it’s clear that Al Qaeda may be more of a threat to us than they were before 9/11 now. And the perception of weakness in this administration is encouraging this kind of behavior.”

There is virtually no evidence that this is true. Yes, the group maintains some frightening affiliates in Yemen, parts of North Africa, and elsewhere. But Al Qaeda’s leadership has been severely crippled by the Obama administration’s aggressive and controversial anti-terror operations abroad. Under Obama, there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of Al Qaeda-affiliated operatives and suspected extremists taken off the battlefield.

Also, Osama bin Laden was very much alive pre-9/11 attacks. He was killed during President Obama’s first term. So there’s that.

Furthermore, the embassy closures and travel alert have inspired another round of conservative media personalities taking shots at the Obama administration over last year’s deadly attack on the US compound in Benghazi—an obvious tragedy, and an obvious nonscandal. “If you’re looking at it from a terrorist perspective, you say, ‘Well, here’s an administration that’s pulling back, that’s timid, and an opportunity to go after additional embassies,'” Rick Santorum, former Republican senator and 2012 presidential candidate, said on Meet the Press on Sunday. To that, here is a chart demonstrating the overall decline in attacks on American diplomatic targets since 1970:

chart attacks on US diplomatic targets

Just another reminder that there are some talking points out there that just might verge on hyperbolic and gratuitously scary-sounding.