In the wake of London, an obvious, and grim, thought.
For several years after the September 11 attacks, Americans breathed a sigh of relief: Al-Qaeda had an incorrigible desire for the theatrical. Intelligence services and law enforcement were generally successful in preventing terror plots from coming to fruition because terrorists plotted big. One jihadist hoped to use blowtorches to collapse the Brooklyn Bridge. Another hoped to bomb the New York Stock Exchange. Seven men were arrested plotting to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower.
Needless to say, these sorts of plots are riddled with potential pitfalls. The conspirators end up under surveillance because they travel to Yemen or Pakistan for “training,” they move money around in suspect ways, they poke around the Internet for illicit explosive material.
Contrast that with London, Westminster, Stockholm, Berlin, Nice, Ohio State, etc.: Start the car. Hit the gas.
Terrorism is not just — or even chiefly — about body counts. It’s about creating a perpetual state of fear — a belief that anyone could be a victim at any moment. Societies on edge crack. It would be difficult to think up a more effective way to impose that fear than these vehicle attacks: Every sidewalk and crosswalk is a potential target.
I have no solution to this problem, nor does anyone, it seems. My guess is that we are about to become more dependent than ever on friends’ and family members’ outing budding jihadists to law enforcement before the fact — but that, for reasons of social and cultural fragmentation, that is going to become even more unlikely.
Which is all to say: Our enemies, finally, seem to be learning, and it’s not clear yet what can be done about it.