If there's one thing that's worked in this Al-Qaeda plot that caused 22 American embassies and consulates to close, it is the surveillance system that Edward Snowden took such pride in exposing, while accusing the U.S. of wanting to control the lives of its citizens.
That information could now fall, and most likely has by now fallen, into the hands of Snowden's new best friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin. The rest is pretty much also a debacle; and America's debacles, as far as the war on terror is concerned, are always Europe's as well.
According to a leak from the U.S. government, Al-Qaeda held a conference call, intercepted by the CIA -- with no fewer than 20 leaders scattered all over the world. We have learned that their plan was to seize power in a Middle Eastern country now devastated by arms trafficking, money, savagery, and international terrorism: Yemen. These accumulating failed states can easily become more Afghanistans: perfect hiding places, basically countries from which new countries can be conquered. The Yemenite government announced yesterday that it had just foiled a planned coup d'état by Al-Qaeda, that had called for the conquest of the cities Al-Mukalla and Ghayl Bawazir, pivotal points for the oil trade. In the main part of the operation -- the plan to attack the Mina al-Dhaba terminal -- Al Qaeda would undoubtedly have taken hostage the foreign experts working there.
American fear now seems as widespread as Islamist extremism. It seems to be a fear of practical and ideological loss in the face of the instability and carnage that now dominate the Middle East, and the need to do anything about it. What makes America's fear damaging is the current administration's refusal to admit that a war -- such as the one under way from Syria to Egypt, from Yemen to Libya to Tunisia -- requires a courageous Middle Eastern policy. The U.S. administration seems to have thought that the democratic movements behind the revolutions would put an end to terrorism, and would be supported the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S. seems to have thought that the Muslim Brotherhood was moderate. To some extent, this misinformed belief actually still exists. In the meantime, Syria is a new meeting point for international Sunni al-Qaeda, a powder keg waiting to happen; and the other terrorist group, Hezbollah, on the orders of Iran, is strengthening its new Shiite al-Qaeda forces every day.
In response, the U.S. President went on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," a television show known for its light-hearted irony, to explain that there has been "no overreaction by the United States with the closing of the embassies and consulates," -- which at the time, when it was still unclear which country the al-Qaeda leaders on conference call had selected, was a prudent decision. He also said that the threat of attacks is "significant," and that, despite an American counterattack, the terrorist organization is very much alive and well. Good news, which, according to the President of the United States, justifies closing its embassies.
After the attacks on the prisons in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, on the anniversary of Mumbai, Gluboky and Jakarta, with the memory of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, Obama was ready to put up a fight -- just not against the terrorists.
Now al-Qaeda seems to have one of its central headquarters in Yemen, under the command of Nasser al-Wahishi. AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], as the organization is called; and, as is the operational structure of al-Qaeda, it is certainly capable of independant operations. So is Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and others in Tunisia, Sinai and everywhere throughout the vast regions North Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri may be isolated in Pakistan, but he is still free to contemplate the next moves of his army.
Fiamma Nirenstein, journalist and author, former Vice-President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright, Gatestone Institute.