The struggle to defeat terrorism has two dimensions.
The first and most obvious is physical. In the physical world, we must tighten our security measures; we must find and kill those committed to terrorism; we must discourage others from choosing that course of action; we must seek allies in our common cause and deny our enemies safe haven. We have been doing all those things, and will continue doing so.
But the second dimension is psychological. Our enemies cannot terrorize us unless we allow ourselves to be terrorized. Their goal, remember, is not to bring down airliners or inflict mass casualties; those are merely the means they hope to use to achieve their real goal of provoking panic, fear and overreaction.
Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of Sept. 11, put it well: “The language of war is victims,” he said. Killing is a means of sending a message.
In that sense, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab succeeded even while failing. The Nigerian engineering student did not bring down Northwest Flight 253; physically, he was foiled by fellow passengers and perhaps his own incompetence. No one died. Yet he and those who sent him must be gratified by the sense of terror and panic he has inspired in some of our fellow Americans.
Take U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee who also happens to be running for governor of Michigan. Hoekstra is a frightened man, and he wants others to share his fears. Within three days of the attempted attack, he sent out a fundraising letter in which he blames the incident on the Obama administration, “the same weak-kneed liberals who have recently tried to bring Guantanamo Bay terrorists right here to Michigan!”
I just love that exclamation point. It’s almost perfect. And I say “almost perfect” because you have to leave room to acknowledge absolute perfection, which Hoekstra achieves later in that letter:
“There should be no partisan rancor when it comes to keeping our citizens safe. Unfortunately, as the Democrat party drifts further and further to the left, their leaders are making decisions that should frighten us all.”
Fear is useful. Fear makes people malleable. Osama bin Laden knows it. So does Peter Hoekstra.
Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has reacted in a similar vein, suggesting that the failed attack should force a complete revision of the nation’s approach to confronting terrorism, as well as a change in its leadership.
“[S]oft talk about engagement, closing Gitmo, these things are not going to appease the terrorists,” DeMint told Politico. “They’re going to keep coming after us, and we can’t have politics as usual in Washington, and I’m afraid that’s what we’ve got right now with airport security.”
Yes, they are going to keep coming after us. Similar attacks have been launched in the past and will occur in the future as well. Our enemies have not gone away; they have not surrendered and they will continue to probe our defenses for weakness.
But weakness can be psychological as well as physical. These cries of fear and panic come from the same geniuses who believe that putting terrorists into SuperMax prisons here in the United States somehow endangers our national security. They have lost all sense of perspective, and show themselves devoid of courage and judgment. They are not leaders, because no one can or should follow those scurrying in fright.
In his poem “If”, Rudyard Kipling wrote in admiration of those who “can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” He would not have admired many in American public life today.