It's August. Bush is in Crawford on a "working vacation." His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don't look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It's 2001. No, it's 2006. - James K. Galbraith
The latest terror plot continues to unravel. The "liberal media" doesn't seem to have noticed. They're too busy trying to sell us fear:
So, there must have been training. That means there must be a lab, or labs. There must have been trial bombs. There must be various bits and pieces of equipment used to mix the chemicals and set them off. There must be a manual. There must be a testing ground. And each one of the young men under arrest must have been to these places. Interestingly, it must have all happened, too, without a serious accident, injury or death among the conspirators. If so, they are a lot more competent than the Weather Underground ever was, in my day.
Arrests were made at night, catching the culprits at home. Houses have been raided, and are being searched. So far as we know at this point, no bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground. Maybe this will come out later, but it hasn't so far, even though the authorities seem anxious to tell just about everything they know.
Now, in order to get on an airplane, even the most devout suicide terrorist needs a ticket, and these generally must be purchased with money. Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees. One little-known feature of airline security (in the United States, anyway) is that people traveling on one-way tickets bought at the last minute get special scrutiny at the gate. Those tickets are also (a lot) more expensive. If you want to pass unnoticed, you will buy your ticket round-trip, in advance, and also save money like everyone else. Actually, if you didn't know this already, you're not fit to be let out of the house.
Further, to get on an international flight from Britain to the United States, in these days of the modern nation-state, you need something else. It's a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don't have them. Someone lacking a passport can, I think, safely be excluded from the ranks of potential suicide bombers of UK-to-US flights. They could, of course, have a counterfeit or be operating in a support role--but so far we are not being told of any counterfeit documents or any support operation. And to pass security you would use a different person to carry each chemical you needed. For twelve flights, that's twenty-four people.
As for the suspicious parents, friends and neighbors--it's technically possible that the bombers' security was so excellent that none existed. It's just that, in dealing with young people swept up in a fervor of religious hatred, the odds are extremely low. Of all the Islamic groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon is the only one that maintains effective military security, which it does by isolating its fighters as completely as possible from the civilian population. But these young men were picked up at home; they were well-known and yet apparently suspected by no one at all.
As to threats: A joke going around the Manchester Airport on August 10 was that at least the IRA would remember to call. What's the point of a suicide bombing if no one knows what it's for? The downing of twelve airplanes would be horrific to those on them (including me, as it happened), but it wouldn't put a dent in Western capitalism. It would have to be part of a much larger, ongoing, unstoppable campaign. Otherwise, why bother? A once-off attack shows the weakness, not the capacity, of the plotters, and in the end it strengthens not them but the governments they attack. After 9/11, terrorists should know this.
Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested, according to some reports. Nineteen have been named. Happily, the detainees were taken alive. Unlike the man arrested in Pakistan, we may presume (I trust) that they are not being tortured. Therefore, they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were. If they do that, I'll eat my hat.
In short: Could this case blow up? Could it turn out to have been an overreaction, a mistake--or even a hoax? Yes, it could, and it wouldn't be the first one, either. I'm not saying it will, necessarily. I'm not accusing the British authorities of bad faith. I'm not suggesting the plot was faked--at least, not by them. But dodgy informants and jumpy politicians are an explosive mixture, easily detonated under pressure. Everyone knows that.
Meanwhile, Larry Beinhart reminds us of something Democrats don't seem to have ovaries to say, that Republicans are bad for national security:
Every Democrat running for national office -- and local offices too, why not? -- should say, "I'm running because Republicans are bad on national security."
Then they should go on to say, here's why I'm saying it:
1. 9/11 happened on their watch. Of course, we can't say, absolutely, that it would not have happened if they had not been asleep at the wheel. But we can say that they did not do all they could have done to prevent it. We can say that Bush literally pushed away the warnings.
2. George Bush and the Republicans failed to get Osama bin Laden. We got both Hitler and Hirohito in less time than we've been chasing bin Laden. Every day that bin Laden's out there, he's proof that you can attack the United States and get away with it. That's a bad message to send, and believe me, people in the terrorist world have heard it loud and clear. That's very bad for national security.
3. George Bush and the Republicans gave Osama bin Laden what he wanted. Bin Laden wanted the US to get into a quagmire. He wanted our troops tied down in an Islamic country so that an insurgency could do to them what the Afghanis did to the Russians and to the British before them.
A modern, hi-tech army is very good at invasions. It's also good for fighting back against other armies. But a modern hi-tech army is not good at occupying a country against the will of the population. Even if the army is as violent and ruthless as the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan were.