More than two
weeks after the event, I'm baffled that the news media insist on
calling the attempted car bombing in Times Square a "failed" terrorist
attack. Just because Faizal Shahzad failed to kill anybody doesn't mean
he didn't succeed in achieving important political objectives for
politicians and terrorists everywhere, including some in our own
For one thing, Shahzad has handed the Obama
administration renewed justification for pouring billions of dollars
into its "counterinsurgency" war in Afghanistan -- just when even the
most hawkish types were questioning the president's sanity in backing
Hamid Karzai, the narco-CEO and Pashtun tribal leader who barely rules
Kabul. Karzai's vote-stealing as well as his complaints about American
interference in his government's attempts to negotiate with the Taliban
were not endearing him to Washington's foreign-policy establishment.
Until Shahzad's incompetent action on May 1, Karzai (aided by his drug
kingpin half-brother) was managing to undermine the whole American war
effort: his refusal to stay on message interfered with the current
drivel that national security requires more volunteers for the army and
greater vigilance by the citizenry.
Politicians like Obama
thrive on the rhetoric of national emergency. Like Bush, he appreciates
a relatively safe threat, so he had to be thrilled to be making
congratulatory calls to the two T-shirt vendors who had noticed the
smoking SUV and alerted the cops.
He also must have been
delighted to be able to thank his friends in the Pakistani government
for rounding up some "Taliban" suspects who had somehow eluded their
notice until Shahzad struck. Deeply corrupt and often uncooperative,
Pakistan's governing oligarchy was similarly becoming a poor
public-relations partner in America's anti-terrorist effort. How could
Obama sell Congress on more aid to Islamabad when Pakistan's
intelligence service was leaking reports to the U.S. press arguing that
NATO's occupation of Afghanistan was creating more terrorism and
strengthening the Taliban -- inside Pakistan?
Now, with the
"terror front" again brought to the crossroads of America (Times Square
is a short subway ride away from World Trade Center site), the whole
rationale for expending lives and money on a fruitless and
counterproductive foreign policy has been revived. Shahzad's bomb
attempt is also a boon to the president's re-election campaign, which,
like George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, needs an external
threat as a plant needs sunlight and carbon dioxide. When the president
sounds decisive in the face of "terror," it always plays well on the
But such political photosynthesis doesn't benefit
just a sitting president. Other, lesser public figures with
authoritarian cravings suck in the oxygen produced by the "terror
threat" like so many emphysema sufferers.
In New York, Police
Commissioner Raymond Kelly, backed by his billionaire boss, Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, has been steadily wearing away at civil liberties
since the huge antiwar demonstrations in February 2003 and anti-Bush
protests at the Republican Convention in 2004. With Bush under attack,
Kelly and Bloomberg twice came to the president's defense. During the
huge antiwar gathering that preceded the "pre-emptive" invasion of
Iraq, they succeeded in confining more than 100,000 demonstrators to an
area near the United Nations, which prevented a real march that would
have gotten greater media coverage. At the convention that re-nominated
Bush more than a year later, Kelly simply threw out the Bill of Rights
and sent his men to arrest about 1,800 anti-Bush activists, many of
whom were simply standing around with signs and threatening no one (90
percent of the cases were dropped).
While the more than 50
civil-rights suits stemming from Kelly's convention round up drag on
against the city, New York's top cop has moved into new realms of
unconstitutional behavior with a "random" stop-and-frisk campaign aimed
mostly at black and Latino teenagers. At the same time, New York's
finest have extended their crime-fighting techniques into the public
schools, where they don't hesitate to handcuff 12-year-old
"terrorists." As The New York Times's Bob Herbert put it, Kelly's
forces are "determined to keep the city safe from sixth graders armed
with magic markers."
Truly, Kelly should hang a picture of
Faizal Shahzad in his office at police headquarters, for the bungling
bomber has single-handedly restored vigor and credibility to the policy
of stop-and-frisk. So should Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Kelly's partner in
crime-fighting, who now proposes that the government be able to strip
"terrorists" of their U.S. citizenship and ship them to the prison at
Guantanamo Bay. How "involvement in a foreign terrorist organization"
would be determined is unclear, but I'm sure Police Commissioner Kelly
could be called upon for wise counsel.
Bloomberg seemed ungrateful to Shahzad, although he did seize the
occasion to praise "the most comprehensive and sophisticated
counterterrorism operation of any local police force in the world" and
escort Obama on a guided tour of the Real Time Crime Center at One
Police Plaza. Instead of thanking Shahzad, the mayor chalked up the
bombing attempt to insecurity by angry Muslims in repressive foreign
countries: "There are some people around the world who find our freedom
so threatening that they're willing to kill themselves and others to
prevent us from enjoying it.
"We're not going to let them win,"
he added. Presumably, Bloomberg wasn't being ironic and doesn't
consider the freedom of assembly, the freedom to walk down the street
unhindered if you're 17 and black, or the freedom to misbehave in sixth
grade without getting handcuffed to be among those liberties that have
so affronted our enemies abroad.
Of course, Obama, Bloomberg,
Lieberman and Kelly aren't the only beneficiaries of Shahzad's
amateurish efforts on behalf of worldwide terrorism. In the end, what
makes the Times Square bombing attempt such a success is that it gives
the Taliban, and al-Qaida, exactly what they need to survive and
recruit new members: an open-ended military occupation by Western
infidels, who terrorize, kill and maim civilians in Kandahar and
Fallujah; and the ongoing U.S. interrogation, brutalizing and
peremptory jailing of terrorist suspects with Muslim and Arabic names.
if Shahzad's bomb had killed or wounded innocent bystanders at 45th
Street and Seventh Avenue, some Americans might have gotten the idea
that the evil foreigners were fighting back.
And they might have asked what we're still doing in Afghanistan and Iraq.