Human IEDs

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Learning from Abdul Mutallab

Coming on the heels of the killing spree by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, the latest terrorist “incident,” involving Abdul Mutallab on Northwest Flight 253, is yet another isolated but tell-tale sign that we must learn from:

1) If solidly middle-class Westernized Muslims mouth the al-Qaeda line of radical Islamic, anti-American boilerplate, please take them seriously — i.e., worry less about their feelings and more about the lives of innocents they may in the future seek to annihilate. The more upscale and the more the Western exposure, the more there is to worry about.

2) For the last eight years, many have patiently tried to suggest that the answer to “Why do they hate us?” does not entail poverty, Western imperialism or colonialism, support for Israel, past provocations, etc. Rather, radical Islam encourages in an Hasan or Mutallab age-old passions like pride, envy, and a sense of inferiority — all accelerated by instantaneous communications and abetted by continual Western apologetics that on a global level blame Westerners for self-induced misery in many Islamic countries. “They did it” is far easier than looking inward to address tribalism, gender apartheid, statism, autocracy, religious intolerance, and fundamentalism, which in perfect-storm fashion ensure an impoverished — and resentful and angry — radical Islamic community while the rest of the world moves merrily on.

3) I think the year-long mantra of “Bush destroyed the Constitution” is now almost over, and we will begin again worrying about our collective safety rather than scoring partisan points by citing supposed excesses in our anti-terrorism efforts. With the delay in closing Guantanamo (from the promised shuttering on Jan. 20, 2010 to . . . sometime in 2011?), Obama’s quiet copy-catting of Bush security protocols (such as wiretaps, intercepts, tribunals, and renditions), and the popular outcry against the upcoming show trial of KSM in New York, a public consensus is growing that radical Muslims like Hasan and Mutallab will continue to attempt to kill Americans. Citizens increasingly understand that the last eight years of relative safety following 9/11 were due only to heightened security at home and proactive use of force abroad, that we should cease trying to appease radical Islam by dreaming up new euphemisms (“overseas contingency operations,” “man-made disasters,” etc.), and that it is time to stop the apologetics and kowtowing, and grudgingly accept that thousands of radical Islamic fundamentalists worldwide want to kill Americans — and dozens of governments, at least on the sly, hope that they do. Such venom has nothing to do with past American behavior or George Bush’s strut, nor can it be ameliorated on the cheap by Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize, middle name, or reset-button diplomacy.

4) As we learned on 9/11, it is often the unsung heroes among us that come out of the shadows to aid us, and not necessarily large bureaucracies entrusted with our safety. Individuals acting on their own so often make the difference between salvation and mass murder.

5) After the embarrassing debate about Hasan (e.g., “Was he a terrorist?”; second-hand post-traumatic stress syndrome, etc.), I don’t think the public will put up with similar contextualization about Mutallab.

6) The politics of anti-terrorism in this administration will insidiously begin to change, given that there was no repeat of 9/11 between 2001 and 2009 — and that thereafter, signs began to emerge that radical Muslims were reenergized and eager to trump their feat of eight years ago. In such a climate, one must worry more about the passengers on Flight 253 and less about whether self-confessed mass murderer and beheader KSM is given a public venue to explain his hatred of the United States, and is granted rights usually not accorded to such out-of-uniform and self-proclaimed terrorist enemies. So a little more “Beware of radical Muslim terrorists who want to murder us — and won’t!” and a little less chest-thumping about dropping the supposedly retrograde “War on Terror.”

The Rub

I think we will see some radical changes from the Obama administration very rapidly. When a Nigerian national, with a history of radical Islamic sympathies, previously reported to U.S. authorities by his father as a threat to America, buys a one-way ticket with cash, has no check-in luggage, previously was denied a British visa, boards a plane easily, and is prevented only by a courageous tourist from murdering over 300 innocents — and when all that is characterized as the system working like “clockwork” — well, something is terribly wrong. We should see such a threat not as a man-made disaster, but an act of war, in which an enemy has planted a series of human IEDs with the intention of killing hundreds of innocents and destroying a trillion-dollar airline industry vital to the commerce and very health of the West.

And a larger problem with our reaction is the context. This latest threat comes amid a climate of “overseas contingency operations” and “man-made disasters,” the closing of Guantanamo with no plans to deal with the over 100 Yemeni suspected terrorists currently detained there, and the public trial in New York of the confessed architect of 9/11. If millions of America find all this quite dangerous — in no small part due to the impression it creates for our enemies — then just perhaps radical Islamists sense American regret and remorse over our past eight years of muscular efforts that prevented another attack, and thus a new chance to find a route to another 9/11.


I think KSM’s trial will be Guantanamoized — that is, relegated to occasional boilerplate anti-Bush partisan rhetoric with little real follow-up — since in the present climate a circus trial would be political suicide.

Secretary Napolitano will be praised to the skies and transferred; the problem is not her nonchalant comments after the averted attack, but a long series of statements that suggests she does not look at terror empirically, but rather through a political prism intended to please the new general climate in Washington.

I think the president will have to cool the Al Arabiya interview motifs, the Cairo meae culpae, the bowing to Saudi royals, the anti-Bush caricatures of prior anti-terrorism policies, and instead begin to speak of the threat from radical homicidal Muslims in terms of a military challenge rather than an interesting civil-liberties debate.

So I think we will see an end to “Bush did it,” since that trope is already turning ironic in the sense that Bush spoke out against the Ahmadinejad regime and was clearly on the side of its dissidents, his caricatured protocols not only kept us safe but in part were quietly adopted by the Obama administration, and the war in Iraq has pretty much quieted down. Demonizing Bush as the architect of an unnecessary counterterrorism response in the present climate is nothing short of a political boomerang.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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