On Thursday, as everyone now knows, a terror plot was foiled in Britain. Most Americans were not even at work yesterday when U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff let slip that it looked like the work of our familiar enemy, al Qaeda. National Review Online gathered a group of experts (below), asking the general question: “What should Americans be thinking about the foiled London terror plot?”
R. P. Eddy
The magnitude of the success this week cannot be overstated. It is hard to imagine the trauma and the long-term cost we would have endured economically, politically, and socially if the terrorists had succeeded.
Why were we successful this time? Likely because of great investigative work, and the massive increase in intelligence sharing between nations. Note that Pakistan assisted in the investigation. We may soon learn they were critical to identifying the group or helping the U.K. better infiltrate them.
We also continue to have the lesson pounded into us that homegrown terrorists are a massive threat. In the days after 9/11 we looked to the federal government for security, and the federal government looked overseas for solutions. This was highly effective to disrupting al Qaeda, but we failed to focus on the threats within our borders. The British began to take homegrown threats very seriously after their subways were bombed by second- and third-generation British citizens, but in the U.S. we have yet to make this paradigm shift. Yesterday’s British success is yet another reminder that law enforcement — including our local police — is actually on the frontlines of the war on terror. We must begin to train and equip our police as “First Preventers” of terrorism, and not simply as “First Responders” who clean up after the terrorists have been successful.
– R. P. Eddy is senior fellow for counterterrorism at the Manhattan Institute.
The free world dodged a bullet this week. Whether it will avoid the ones still in the chamber of Islamofascism’s loaded gun depends on the extent to which we internalize this latest reminder that we are at war — and respond in appropriate and sustained ways.
The first lesson is one we should have learned on 9/11 and largely did not: Our enemy is an ideological movement. President Bush has finally come around to referring to it as Islamic fascism. Its adherents are associated with myriad cells, organizations, and loyalties to various schools of Islam.
The danger is not al Qaeda per se. Rather, it is the totalitarian ideology that animates it and other counterpart Sunni and Shiite cabals. Were we to focus exclusively and successfully on Osama bin Laden and his followers — an idée fixe for many Democratic politicians — we would simply ensure that we are destroyed by other Islamofascists, instead.
The second lesson is that this movement is about power, not faith — even though Islamofascism dresses itself up as a religion and claims divine authority for its ruthless repression and violence. By so doing, it represents a singular threat to democratic societies rooted in religious tolerance. ACLU apologists and Saudi-funded front organizations use our civil liberties to protect our enemies, in the process affording them greater latitude to plot and execute our destruction.
The third lesson is that Islamofascist apparatuses have been established all over the world in the past four decades. Much of this has been made possible by sustained, purposeful, and generous state-sponsored funding and organizational direction. The worst such sponsor has been our so-called allies in Saudi Arabia, and underwritten by our energy purchases. As a result, the terrorists we face are increasingly likely to be citizens of the countries they are attacking, rather than relatively easily identified aliens.
Finally, if we are to defeat today’s totalitarian ideology bent on our destruction, we must do as we have done in the past: Mobilize the talents, energies, technologies, and other resources of this great country as though our lives depend upon it, for indeed they do. Only with the sort of comprehensive, dynamic, and counter-ideological effort that Ronald Reagan waged against Soviet Communism and Franklin Roosevelt waged against national socialism and fascism can we hope to prevent future, far worse attacks than those averted this week and prevail in the War for the Free World.
– Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and lead author of War Footing: Ten Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World.
Victor Davis Hanson
I think we are finally, five years after 9/11, seeing that Western civilization, as we currently know it, cannot exist without its global transportation system, reasonably priced fuel for its industry, and, above all, a sense of security and safety that is the prerequisite for our liberal society. So the latest terror plot reminds us that these fascists hate the West and modernity, since it reminds them how backward the Middle East is, and shames them by their very desires for the technology and freedom of the West they hate.
The president’s remarks about Islamic fascism were critical, and so should be demands on the “moderate” Islamic community to disassociate itself from this war on the West. But instead we hear mostly charges of “Islamophobia,” never honesty about the profiles of those who wish to destroy an airplane, a skyscraper, or Jews in civic centers and airports. One example: Last week the state-run Palestinian newspaper ran racist cartoons of the American secretary of State; not a single American-Muslim organization voiced outrage at this, much less the Middle East daily fare of Jews as apes and pigs. So to conclude of only the latest effort of savages to murder thousands: Westerners in general are seeing that their civilization will not continue if hourly radical Muslims are trying to destroy it with liquid explosives, or germs, or other various sorts of terror — and at some point they are going to ask of everyone, to paraphrase the president, “Are you with us or with the terrorists?” It’s that simple, no more equivocating, no more “Of course — BUT.… “ We need no more multicultural gibberish — just a simple question, “Is the West worth preserving from its 7th-century enemies or not?”
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
The first thing Americans should keep in mind is that this thwarted plot bears all the hallmarks of al Qaeda. It has been widely recognized that this plot is eerily similar to the Operation Bojinka plot of 1994 — which was designed to simultaneously blow up a dozen planes over the Pacific simultaneously.
While Bojinka was foiled before it ever got off the ground, al Qaeda has clearly never given up on the idea. The September 11 plot had its roots in Bojinka, as does this most recent plot. Al Qaeda and the various entities that support it are clearly determined to see their plans through to the end — even more than a decade later. This says a lot about their determination.
The second thing Americans should keep in mind is that this plot most likely involved the same Pakistani terror network tied to al Qaeda that had a hand in the July 7, 2005, London bombings. The British investigation into 7/7 determined that those terrorists traveled to Pakistan, where they most likely met with al Qaeda operatives and received some training.
Similarly, early reports indicate that the terrorists detained in this plot were mostly, if not all, of Pakistani descent. The New York Times has also reported that at least some of the would-be terrorists traveled to Pakistan, where — just as in the case of the 7/7 bombings – they “may have met with at least one person suspected of having links to Al Qaeda.”
Why should Americans keep this mind? Because even though there are reports that the Pakistanis helped break up this attack, it is clear that there is still an active network exporting terrorism from its soil. In the future we may not be so lucky as to stop an attack connected to the terrorists operating from Pakistan. What is Pakistan going to do to shut down this network? And what are the U.S. and the U.K. going to do to get Pakistan to shut down this network?
It is clear that there has been much progress in Pakistan’s willingness to help fight the war on terror. But, there is still room for improvement. Our enemies are determined. And we must be more determined to hunt them down and stop them — wherever they may operate from. We can’t count on breaking up plots so close to their execution every time.
– Thomas Joscelyn is a terrorism researcher who blogs at thomasjoscelyn.blogspot.com.
Heather Mac Donald
President Bush says that the foiled British terror plot is a “stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists.” If so, this is a heck of a way to run a war. Air travel ground to a crawl on Thursday as every passenger was required to dump anything remotely liquid in his carry-on luggage. Security lines at Newark stretched the length of six football fields; other airports were only minimally more efficient.
The chaos reflected the assumption that every passenger boarding a plane in the U.S. posed an equal risk of blowing it up. Perhaps yesterday’s security procedures merely represent a temporary spasm of overkill. More likely, however, they will be codified into a new set of rules against carry-on liquids, requiring TSA agents to dig deeply into every piece of hand luggage, and costing billions of dollars in lost economic activity as travelers spend ever more time at airport check-points.
If President Bush believes that we are at war with “Islamic fascists,” his security policies should stop treating every American like the enemy. The most cursory analysis of successful and intending “Islamic fascists” to date reveals an almost unbroken uniformity of characteristics: They are virtually all young Muslim men of Middle Eastern, south Asian, or north African extraction. The handful of outliers — such as the undoubtedly feckless bozos recently charged in Florida — are too insignificant to mention, much less build national policy around.
The United States is currently pouring treasure and diplomatic muscle into defending Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East. American officials do not accuse it of human-rights violations for its unapologetic use of terror profiling. Perhaps American leaders believe that Israel is really at risk, and thus must take otherwise unacceptable security measures, whereas the United States can afford to only play at fighting Islamic terrorism. If so, the Bush administration should cut the war rhetoric and level with the American people that the threat level in the U.S. is simply not that great.
But if the White House continues using apocalyptic language about “Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom,” as Bush announced on Thursday, then it should act on that rhetoric and start directing our finite security resources at the people most likely to pose a threat.
– Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.
Several thoughts come to mind: (1) Yesterday’s thwarted terror plot, and the ensuing media frenzy, offered the perfect antidote to what I warned was a dangerous post 9/11 complacency, for it involved no deaths but vast attention. Also, it prompted President Bush to break new ground by referring to our “war with Islamic fascists.”
(2) Airplanes represent an outdated target because passenger-screening techniques quickly adapt to threats. As soon as terrorists implement new techniques (box-cutters, shoe-bombs, liquid components), security promptly blocks them. (One cannot but wonder, however, why creatively, cops invariably lag behind criminals.) Conversely, trains, subways, and buses, as shown by attacks in Madrid, London, and Bombay, offer far richer opportunities for terrorists, for access to them can never be so strictly controlled as to aircraft.
(3) Massive terror plots of this sort (another example: the “Toronto 17“ arrested in June) are unwieldy and more easily uncovered than small-scale terror that involves only one or two persons. The Beltway Snipers, who in October 2002 terrorized the Washington, D.C., area, offer a prime counterexample.
(4) On a personal note, as a writer who clocks in his share of hours on planes, I worry that the temporary ban on electronic gear will become permanent, prompting me to rethink my entire travel schedule.
James S. Robbins
The key takeaways from the plot as I see it:
1. Al Qaeda has a limited imagination when it comes to attack plans. This operation was essentially the same as the Bojinka plan dreamed up by Ramzi Youssef back in 1995. 9/11 was an outgrowth of Bojinka, and here they return to the idea of simply blowing up aircraft. That demonstrates that we need to stay focused on protecting our air infrastructure. If you ever thought it would be easier to fly on a plane again, forget it.
2. The means of attack, combining two inert liquids to produce an explosive gel, shows that the bad guys are seeking to exploit every possible loophole in the security system. Mixing liquids to form explosives is not a new idea; it has been floated in terrorist documents. And Ramzi Youssef used a contact-lens-solution bottle to smuggle nitroglycerine for his test bombing of Philippine Air Flight 434 in 1994. So I would guess we won’t be allowed to take drinks on an aircraft ever again, too risky.
3. The terror plot was uncovered by a combined British/Pakistani/U.S. operation, which shows that productive collaboration is possible in the global war on terrorism. Also, according to a statement by a U.S. official (that the British probably wish was not made), the terror cell was penetrated by an agent and had been under observation since December. This demonstrates that the cells are not invulnerable to good intelligence work.
4. The war is very much ongoing, and groups of people are still out there formulating sophisticated ways to create mayhem. People has been relaxing a bit, taking things a little less seriously, even with attacks being carried out abroad (such as Mumbai, London, and Madrid). The 9/11 Commission said our biggest failure was one of imagination. As this attack plan shows, it is clearly not a failing of the terrorists.
— 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 author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.