August 10, 2006
Many Americans have grown complacent about the threat of terrorism, so perhaps today's announcement of the arrest of dozens of terrorist conspirators in Great Britain will serve as a needed wake-up call. If the purported ten airliners had indeed been brought down, the death toll might well have exceeded that of September 11. Many of the suspects were born in Britain, though most are from Pakistani families. (Assimilation? Not!) The plan was to use liquid explosives triggered by an MP3 player or similar device (iPod???), showing that the "passion and cunning" of terrorists (to cite Conor Cruise O'Brien's book on that subject) will keep our security experts on their toes for decades to come. See BBC. Whether or not the conspirators were actual members of al Qaeda is beside the point, because the Islamo-fascist movement has evolved into a decentralized operation (see below), with many self-starting "entrepreneurs" who have only weak ties to Osama bin Laden or his lieutenants. This changed circumstance should remind us why the proposed alternative of focuing exclusively on rooting out terrorist bases in the wilderness of South Asia could not have accomplished much.
Donald Sensing observes that North Korean agents blew up a South Korean airliner with such a device in 1987, and speculates whether they may be involved with this plot in some way. North Korea has been collaborating with Iran over ballistic missile technology and WMDs, so this possibility cannot be ruled out.
Meanwhile, eleven Egyptian "students" who were supposed to be attending the University of Montana are at large, subject to deportation for having violated the terms of their student visas. This should remind us that immigration reform is an urgent matter of national security, and -- at least in my view -- the first order of business should be to get everyone who is currently here illegally registered immediately, or else forfeit any future opportunity to gain legal resident status here.
During the middle part of the Vietnam War, some congressman suggested that the best course of action for the United States would be to just declare that we had won and go home. That is similar to what James Fallows proposes in the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Declaring Victory." Though known for having a rather dour outlook on the war (see Dec. 14), he really does think that we have accomplished a great deal in the campaign against terrorists thus far. He notes that Al Qaeda and its Islamic extremist allies have started to bicker over killing fellow Muslims, and that the initial "romantic" appeal of jihadism is fading as the corpses pile higher and higher in Baghdad. Furthermore, which is what is so relevant to the events of today, the command structure of Al Qaeda has been largely dismantled, and their ability to do us serious harm has been crippled. Fallows believes that their biggest weapon, now, is in goading us into overreacting, either through unduly aggressive military action or by unduly defensive homeland security measures. Challenging the Bush administration's approach, he writes, "Perhaps worst of all, an open-ended war is an open-ended invitation to defeat." Thus, he concludes, our interests would be best served by recognizing the great achievements we have won, and moving on with "quiet confidence."
From a purely rational perspective, it indeed sounds like an appropriate way to make the best of a difficult situation in Iraq, but there is a slight problem: Could the average person tell the difference between that course of action versus "cutting and running," a la Howard Dean and Ned Lamont? It would take an extraordinarily gifted communicator in the White House to convey such a subtle message with just the right tone.
Prior to the Yankees-Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Saturday, I came across this shrine to American servicemen and women, a reduced-size recreation of the huge metal plaque that used to adorn the south end of Memorial Stadium:
Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.
Does that last phrase (italics added) sound familiar? It should.
Andrew Sullivan has become one of the loudest conservative critics of the way the Bush administration has handled the war on Islamic terrorism, so he is in a special position to respond to criticism from the Democrats. (The victory of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary makes this question more salient, at least temporarily.) Sullivan responds to a Democrat reader's vague alternative approach to the threat of terror in a very direct fashion:
But, for all Cheney's and Rumsfeld's flaws, they are at least proposing something serious, however ineptly carried out. I have yet to hear anti-war voices on the left propose a positive strategy for defeating Islamist terror at its roots, or call for democratization of the Arab Muslim world. ...
Until the opposition party presents a progressive, democratic agenda to reform the Middle East - as Blair has done in Britain, for example - there's no reason to take them seriously on national security.