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Ted Koppel on terrorism: How the weak get the strong to overreact

Koppel comes close to declaring the recent embassy closings a win for Al Qaeda.

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Pretty much all of the U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan that were closed last week because the United States intercepted a phone call between two top Al Qaeda figures discussing a possible attack are open again. It’s great that no attack occurred. Personally, I have no quibble with the decision to close the embassies.

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Realistically – and here I speak of political realism as well as a reasonable commitment to keep our embassy personnel safe – after what happened in Benghazi last year on Sept. 11 and the effort by some people to turn it into something between a campaign issue and an impeachable offense, it’s easy to understand why the Obama administration might want to err on the side of closing embassies rather than take any chances.

On “Meet the Press” Sunday, Ted Koppel, in his current role as wise old man (he’s only 73), took the embassy closings in another direction, which came pretty close to declaring the episode a win for Al Qaeda. If the goal of terrorism is to get someone to act terrorized, I guess he has a pretty fair point. Here’s what he said:

Look, fundamentally there are two sets of questions that apply in the war against terrorism. The one set of questions deals with the, “Where is it going to happen? What’s going to happen? When is it going to happen?” The other set of questions deals with, “What is it that our enemy, the terrorists, are trying to achieve? What are they trying to induce us to do?”

Take a look at what’s been happening over the last week. With a conference call, Al Qaeda has effectively shut down 20 U.S. embassies around north Africa and the Middle East. We just had the president of Yemen here for a meeting with President Obama. He goes back feeling wonderful about his new relationship with the president; next thing the president does is says, in effect, “Sorry, but we don’t trust you Yemenis to protect our embassies.” So, in effect, we shut down our embassy. We had an emergency evacuation.

What does that do to our relationship in the rest of north Africa? What does that do in our relationship in the Middle East, with all of these governments? The terrorists have achieved more with one phone call than we have achieved with all our response

On the next trip around the table a couple of minutes later, moderator David Gregory pushed back a bit at Koppel, saying: “In light of your criticism about overreaction, there is still a very specific threat and a very specific operator who is atop these organizations.” The Koppel reply:

And there will continue to be a specific threat, and there will continue to be terrorism, as there has been for as long as human history exists. Terrorism is simply the weapon by which the weak engage the strong. And what they do is they cause the strong — in this case, us — to overreact.

We are the ones who went into Iraq and spent about $1.5 trillion doing it, losing, what, 4,500 young men and women, God knows how many tens of thousands of injured. We are the ones who have created a bureaucracy. What is T.S.A.? T.S.A. has about 57,000 people operating in T.S.A. Can you imagine a day, David, when we will ever again be without that bureaucracy? All imposed upon ourselves.

Full transcript of the show is here.