How safe are Americans from a growing terrorist threat at home and overseas? The recent suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara reminds us of the fatal attack in Benghazi and raises new questions.
I was happy to post photo essays featuring pretty pictures of places and people in Turkey. I felt that, in some small way, I was offering a seldom-seen view into the country that spans Europe and Asia. Turkey offers many contrasts in landscapes. You can visit the arid eastern plains, home to ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia, and find mysterious statues and stone mosques. You can explore the rainy Black Sea with its Russian influence. You can sail on the Mediterranean, past castles where Paul the Apostle landed two thousand years ago. You can visit Aegean islands so close to Greece that you could swim across the border.
But then, in my unique position in Turkey where I have lived for two and a half years, I began to observe more than just the beauty around me. News stories practically fell into my lap, and soon I was writing about Turks celebrating freedom, political change, a foiled assassination plot against a Christian pastor, and the U.S. Embassy suicide bombing in Ankara.
I believe that Americans should travel overseas. We can learn much in far-off places. We can forge new alliances and understandings between ourselves and people of different cultures, religions, and politics. The United States has established consulates and embassies around the world for important diplomatic ties and services offered to its citizens traveling abroad.
But we have a problem. Our embassies have been breached by terrorist attacks and foreign enemies.
After the Friday suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, the U.S. Department of State issued a warning to all American citizens to stay away from U.S. facilities in Turkey. That announcement made me feel insecure. What if I had an emergency and needed a quick evacuation home? Who would support me?
I have been to the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, a fortified building set atop a hill like a castle. I have stood in the very spot where the suicide bomber detonated his vest yesterday, inside the security checkpoint of the visa entrance section at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. The security seemed adequate, but Turkish police guard the buildings, not U.S. marines as was done in the past. Why are there no marines here, I wondered, as I went through the checkpoints.
There's an old saying, "Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer." Often our enemies lie in the shadows, but sometimes they are close to home. How many people with international terrorist ties are currently living a relaxed and even wealthy life in America, holding green cards or adopted citizenship papers while posting dangerous agendas on the Internet and broadcasting television shows to their many overseas followers? Perhaps our enemies are too close. Who lurks in the shadows? Perhaps we should use brighter torches to expose them.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke now-famous words at the Benghazi hearings that I watched live via CNN in Turkey. "What difference, at this point, does it make?" she asked when grilled about who initiated the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
It makes a great deal of difference, Hillary. If we know who our enemies are, we have a better chance of defending ourselves against them.
President Obama and new Secretary of State John Kerry have been silent after the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. Perhaps, Instead of merely issuing warnings to Americans to stay away from U.S. consulates, they should issue a stronger statement of assurance. Perhaps they should send U.S. marines to stand guard.
Writer's Note: I find it highly ironic that, just after I wrote this, I reported that the body of Sarai Sierra, a New York woman missing for two weeks, was found stabbed to death in Istanbul.