These are heady times, for sure. We would like to welcome to the ranks of suddenly-confident pontificators one Mr. Oliver North, writing in a column for Fox News. Col. North introduces us to his expertise by saying "Yemen is a much bigger problem than anyone ever believed before Christmas Day." Now, this is true in his case, as a quick search reveals that it wasn't on his radar. That makes it weird when he goes on to lament that the "O-Team" is "slow off the mark when it comes to dealing with this threat." (O-Team is his term, not mine. I assume that it is a parody of the A-Team, though why Ollie North wants to remind people of soldiers-of-fortune is beyond me.) It is possible to criticize the administration for not fully realizing the threat, though it is disingenous to imply that it was as far off their radar as it was for you, considering the high-profile visits to Yemen over the last year. But the problem with the initial response is that people have been moving too fast, though that seems to have leveled out.

The really weird part of North's article comes at the end. I will quote in full.

Now we know that 55,000 Americans are currently "visiting, living or studying in Yemen." That stunning number is in a letter Rep. Frank Wolf, author of the 1998 legislation creating the National Terrorism Commission, sent to the White House this week. The congressman points out: "All these individuals can fly back to the United States with American passports" and asks how the Obama administration plans to handle those who may be coming home, radicalized and trained in terror.


I suppose I agree with North that it is good to demonize everyone who goes over there, instead of maybe being happy that there might be scholars, journalists, students, or even language and culture experts whose knowledge might be helpful. I guess I just think he is a little vague as to whether we imprison people right away, or follow them around first to see where they might go.

My point with this is that it is up to the Admin and journalists to make sure that while we do recognize the threat of Yemen, we might not want to have the word "Yemen" be entirely and reflexively associated with darkness, evil, dread and violence. That is a good way to whip up hysteria, and a terrible climate in which to make policy.