Politics & Policy

The Lone-Wolf Pack

No matter how boldly the dots are painted, they'd prefer not to have to connect them.

Editor’s note: This column is available exclusively through King Features Syndicate. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material,  kfsreprint@hearstsc.com or phone 800-708-7311, ext. 246.

Sometimes a conspiracy is a conspiracy.

If it’s the first step toward madness to see connections between random events when there are none, what is it to pretend that undeniable connections don’t exist?

After the failed Times Square car bombing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano immediately opined that it was a “one-off.” Sen. Chuck Schumer chimed in, “The odds are quite high that this was a lone wolf.” Translation: Nothing to see here, just a random crazy and a failed plot of no larger consequence.

Soon enough, Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen, had been arrested en route to Pakistan. The criminal complaint against Shahzad alleges that he “received bomb-making training in the militant strongholds of western Pakistan.”

This shouldn’t have been a shock to anyone, except perhaps the high-level government officials entrusted with protecting us. What had looked like an attempted terrorist attack in Times Square turned out to be an attempted terrorist attack in Times Square. It emanated from western Pakistan, the land of one-offs and the source of a disproportionate share of the world’s “lone wolves.”

As the nature of the plot became more obvious, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs unburdened himself of this labored locution: “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be characterized as a terrorist.” In other words: Shahzad was a terrorist engaging in an act of terror. Is that so hard to say?

The lone-wolf theory holds a certain comfort. It means an attack wasn’t an act of war, but a crime; it means Islam can be put aside as a motivation; and, even better, it leaves open the possibility that a right-wing extremist is responsible.

Despite governing a city that had a vast hole blown into it by Islamic terrorists, Mayor Michael Bloomberg could hardly imagine Muslim extremists targeting innocents in the “crossroads of the world.” Not when there are more congenial would-be mass murderers. On CBS News, Bloomberg speculated that the plotter would be “homegrown, or maybe a mentally deranged person, or somebody with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health-care bill or something.”

Bloomberg must be watching too many TV shows and movies, where writers always strain to create terrorist threats that have nothing to do with Muslims. But even they haven’t yet come up with a plotline involving terrorists convinced that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the Congressional Budget Office score of the health-care bill is too rosy.

Usually, the government is in the position of knocking down irrational conspiracy theories; it has never quite convinced everyone that the Kennedy assassination was the work of a lone gunman. But here is an active global conspiracy, and it’s the government that irrationally wants to see a series of lone gunmen. The Pakistani Taliban must have been frustrated in the initial days after the attempt, when so few in the U.S. government would believe that, yes, it might send someone to bomb Times Square.

Around the world, governments are eager to accuse their adversaries of terrorism. Ours might be the first government in history that’s reluctant to call honest-to-goodness terrorists by their true name. A haze of euphemism and evasion hangs over the War on Terror.

It’s not that Pres. Barack Obama is unwilling to fight. He’s raining hellfire on extremists in western Pakistan. But the War on Terror is a bit of an embarrassment and inconvenience to the administration and its supporters. It has the retrograde feel of George W. Bush and is a distraction from the domestic agenda in which they are most invested. They’d rather not be bothered and, psychologically, want to be fighting right-wing nuts rather than Islamists who can’t be blamed on Rush Limbaugh.

When the next “lone wolf” shows up at our door, they’ll probably have the same reaction all over again: What global conspiracy to kill Americans? No matter how boldly the dots are painted, they’d prefer not to have to connect them.

 Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.

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