Wednesday’s hotel bombings in Jordan are the latest senseless atrocity in the terror war. They bear the usual hallmarks of al Qaeda — multiple, simultaneous suicide bombings seeking high casualties among noncombatants. Jordanian security forces have done tremendous work combating terrorism in their country and abroad, but no defensive system can be perfect. The attacks illustrate one of the truisms of the war on terrorism: In order to be completely safe, the good guys have to get it right every time; but for the bad guys to succeed they only have to get lucky once. You can’t prevail against those odds. Eventually something slips through. Attacks like this may just be something that we have to live with, so long as there are determined people ready to commit deadly violence against innocent people.
Jordan has not suffered the same degree of domestic violence as some of its neighbors, but not for lack of effort. The Jordanians have been busting up al Qaeda plots since before 9/11. Most dramatic was the disruption
of a complex and potentially catastrophic chemical-weapons attack last year. This was the one in which terrorist cell leader Azmi Jayousi
betrayed his entire network after he was apprehended, publicly denied doing so, and then had to watch Jordanian security video of himself doing that very thing. The trial is underway now, with Abu Musab al Zarqawi being tried in absentia as a co-conspirator. Jordan has also broken up ten networks funneling terrorists to Iraq this year alone. But al Qaeda has had a few successes. In August 2003 they bombed
the Jordanian embassy in Iraq, and last August fired rockets at U.S. ships in the port cities of al Aqaba and Elat.
The question “why Jordan?” is easy enough to answer. Jordan has been on the enemy’s target list for years. King Abdullah has shown himself to be an enlightened, progressive monarch who is committed to a program of economic and social modernization–just the kind of ruler al Qaeda despises. He has been a strong partner in the anti-terror Coalition, and has traveled the world seeking to build coalitions of like-minded moderate Muslims who abhor violence. The king was in Central Asia promoting this vision when the attacks took place. At a speech last September at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., King Abdullah discussed the “Amman Message,” a program launched in November 2004 seeking to “articulate Islam’s essential social values: compassion, respect for others, tolerance and acceptance and freedom of religion. And it rejects Muslim isolation from the global movement of human history.”
For its part, al Qaeda released a message last August addressed to the “tyrant of Jordan,” in which they claimed, “The lions of monotheism are settled in Jordan. They are unified and hold a grudge against you. So, end injustice against our scholars in your prisons and abdicate from the throne voluntarily before you are forced to leave it in disgrace. We are closer to you than your jugular vein.” How an attack on revelers at a wedding will bring about the hoped-for abdication, or improve al Qaeda’s image in the kingdom, is anyone’s guess. Terrorists seem to think that this sort of violence is instrumental to their ends, but history does not provide examples to validate that conclusion. And even though the enemy has been able to pull off bombings in recent months London, Bali, and Egypt, they are no closer to their objectives there either.
Meanwhile there has been some good news of late. Australian security forces broke up two “catastrophic” attack plots, and Malaysian-born Azari Husin, bomb-maker extraordinaire, chose to sample his own product rather than be captured during a shootout with police in Malang, Indonesia. This is how the war works. The terrorists win some and lose some. But their victories don’t add up to much–and their defeats hurt them a great deal. So long as we remain determined to defeat the terrorists, and to not allow them to define the terms of our lives through violence, they cannot prevail. As King Abdullah said last September, “History shows us that at one time or another, all religions have faced extremists who abuse the power of faith. But moral leadership cannot be abdicated.”
–James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, a trustee for the Leaders for Liberty Foundation, and an NRO contributor.