The Corner

Sic Semper Dubitantus!

Maybe the Latin doesn’t quite work out (hey, I’m a public school product), but news that the U.S. is now evacuating some diplomats and families from Lebanon and offering to get more out of southeastern Turkey in response to unspecified threats should give life to a new cry of radicals: “Thus Always to Vacillators!”

Just a month ago, the State Department closed two dozen embassies and missions over terror threats that never materialized. Nonetheless, vital American outposts in the Middle East and North Africa went dark, locked down, while back home the country waited with bated breath for its representatives abroad to come under seige. Of course, if you were a terrorist and you knew security went to the highest level, then you’d wait for a different moment to attack. The point was, as I tried to argue, that we had entered an age of reduced expectations, where the U.S. appears increasingly supine, passive, reactive to events not under our control.

Of course, saving American life is paramount, but how are we to play a global role if we start to regularly raise the drawbridges on a regional scale? Instead of instituting rigorous security checks far from the front doors of our embassies, with host nation military forces as the front line, and U.S. Marines ordered to shoot to kill anyone who breaks through the cordon, we close up shop. Security experts may say that Washington did the right thing. In that case, we have now surrendered the pace of events, and regular shutting down of our diplomatic posts abroad is the new normal. Hence, we see Lebanon going dark. If we half-heartedly attack Syria, where else will be next? Then, what about posts in non–Middle Eastern countries, but where there are weak security forces, or large Muslim populations? Exactly where does it end?

The political message sent by Washington is one of timidity, vacillation, hesitation. Barack Obama’s Hamlet-like Syria debacle, which gets worse every day, only emboldens those who have figured out how to keep us off balance. It may soon come to the point where it is not worth it for our diplomats to have any presence in a host of majority-Muslim countries, if we make clear that we won’t push back when threatened or attacked. Let’s not forget that not one terrorist, anywhere in the world, has been held accountable for Benghazi. It doesn’t matter if the president knew what was happening and didn’t act that night (actually it does, but leave that aside). His utter failure for two years to act after the attack has only emboldened those who now know how to make America look like it is powerless and shrinking around the globe. The truth is, they are right, at least for now.

So, bring the diplomats home, and admit that your global presence is a fraud in places like the Middle East. Or, cower in your bunkers, neither reaching those you want to influence or isolating those you are at war with. The new normal is of us pulling down the blackout shades and hoping we get through the night. Sic semper dubitantus.

UPDATE: Latin literate readers (including some at NRO) have kindly supplied the correct noun: dubitantibus. Gratias vobis ago.

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