Multi-nation travel alert and terror threat. What's up with that?

When the story first broke yesterday evening, the number was in the teens. By the time this CNN story was put online it was 21. As I sit down to write this, they’ve increased it to 22. It’s the number of US embassies being shut down all across parts of Asia, North Africa and the Middle East in the wake of what are being described as imminent and credible threats from al Qaeda.

A global travel alert issued Friday by the State Department warned al Qaeda may launch attacks in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond in coming weeks, a threat that prompted Sunday’s closure of 21 embassies and consulates…

Various Western targets — not just those tied to the United States — are under threat, according to two U.S. officials.

According to three sources, the United States has information that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula members are in the final stages of planning for an unspecified attack.

Jake Tapper is reporting that the focal point of the perceived threats is Yemen, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given AQ trends over the past decade.

There still seems to be some debate going on this weekend, however, over the nature, the scale, or even the existence of the threat which prompted these actions. A few possibilities come to mind.

The first and most obvious is that this is exactly what it’s being depicted as. Al Qaeda planning attacks isn’t exactly breaking news. Al Zawahri has been rattling his sword again lately on a variety of topics, including blaming the United States for teaming up with the Egyptian army to dump Mursi and calling for attacks on American interests. Also, we’re coming up on the end of Ramadan, which a lot of bad actors in the affected region treat pretty much the same way as opening day of deer season over here. There’s bipartisan agreement on the Hill that the threat is solid and worth the precautions, and even Krauthammer seems to be giving it credence, though he does note that the situation is yet more proof that our foreign policy is a shambles.

But not everybody is so sure. At the opposite end of the spectrum we just might find some people who think this could be a ginned up diversion to draw attention away from the Administration’s other scandals. (“Hey, don’t laugh. It worked for Bush and Cheney“!) No matter how that may sound to you, it certainly didn’t give Glenn Greenwald much pause.

NYT on the new and exciting Terror plot:

“Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.”

But who’s to say that there may not be a balance of the two ideas behind all of this, with one minor modification – all due apologies to Mssr. Greenwald. One of the biggest thorns still sticking out of Obama’s paw (and Hillary’s for that matter) is Benghazi. The last thing in the world he needs right now is yet another attack on yet another diplomatic outpost with yet more dead Americans to explain away. Even if the detected threat wasn’t quite as large as it’s currently being billed, or at least not as wide spread, would it be unexpected for the White House to totally overreact and shut down every embassy across a third of the planet while sounding sirens from every rooftop? That way, if something does blow up in our faces – literally as well as figuratively – he can have Jay out there at the podium lickety split to sadly inform us of what happened, immediately followed by a mournful, “we tried to warn you. We did everything we could.

I suppose we’ll have to let this one simmer a while longer to find out.