Mr. Obama looks for a horse
There's chatter, and there's chatter, and only a trained intelligence ear can tell the difference. The trained ears are trying now to determine what to make of the chatter about a new attack on the United States, here or abroad and perhaps co-ordinated by the Islamic State (usually called ISIS).
If there's anything to the chatter (and sometimes there is), we may soon be treated to what happens when Barack Obama employs his famous tactic of "leading from behind." We have to call it a tactic and not a strategy, since the president says he doesn't have a strategy.
He might one day get one, but he says he "doesn't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet." He might not have the cart yet, either, and there's certainly no sign of a horse. Such hope is based on the works of Alfred E. Neuman, the famous comic-book philosopher, celebrated for how he deals with disaster: "What, me worry?"
Certain national-security officers, who have heard the chatter and measured it against what they think they can expect, based on painful experience, do worry. They are not so carefree and cheerful as Mr. Neuman might be. "We've noticed a significant increase in chatter among Islamic terrorist organizations both on the Internet and telephone lines," a U.S. government security officer tells the Blaze, an Internet news site.
Intelligence officers won't say whether they think an attack is imminent, the officer says, but "agencies did see this kind of increase in chatter before the September 11 attacks." The anniversary is upon us.
If such an attack occurs, it may surprise the White House but it won't surprise governments elsewhere. There are hints across the world that would be starkly revealed as having been portents, not mere hints.
Britain, which has unique reasons to worry about terrorism, with its thousands of new Muslim immigrants flocking from the British Commonwealth. It's the price Old Blighty is paying for centuries of colonialism, and the government has raised its warning level from "substantial" to "severe," the second-highest indicator of concern. "Severe" means a terrorist attack of some kind is "highly likely."
Jeh Johnson, the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, insists there's nothing to worry about. "At present," he says, "[Homeland Security] and the FBI are unaware of any specific, credible threat to the U.S. homeland from the Islamic State. Plainly, however, violent extremists who support [Islamic State] has demonstrated the intent and capability to target American citizens overseas, and [Islamic State] constitutes an active and serious threat within the region." Well, thanks for that, Jeh.
We're all entitled to hope for the best, and hope is what this administration keeps selling. But threats, menace and peril surround us. Il Tempo, the usually reliable Rome daily, reports it was told by usually reliable Israeli security sources that now Pope Francis is "in the crosshairs of ISIS." He's an obvious target of choice, the Israelis say, quoting the Islamists, because he is "the greatest exponent of the Christian religion" and the "bearer of false truth." It's not clear what "false truth" may be, but only the densest don't get the point.
Nevertheless, the Catholic News Agency reported that Italy issued a nationwide terror alert despite no specific threats of imminent attack. The Vatican was taking the news more seriously than it wanted to let on.
"We face a real and serious threat in the UK from international terrorism," Theresa Mays, the home secretary said, and urged everyone to "remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to the police." She might have been channeling her counterpart from 1940, when England was under seige: "Keep calm and carry on."
David Cameron, the British prime minister, gets it. He calls the threat from ISIS "a greater and deeper threat to security than we have seen before. We cannot appease this ideology, we have to confront it at home and abroad."
President Obama was indeed calm, and carrying on as usual. He was off to New York as the week end began, speaking at a fundraiser as usual, interrupting it only to attend the wedding of a friendly talk-show hostess.
"If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart," Mr. Obama said of the bad news from everywhere. "The good news is that American leadership has never been more necessary." Now he tells us.