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A Victory In The Non-War War

Our joy at the news that the latest underwear bombing plot by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been foiled is somewhat diminished by the realization that this time they were trying a new and improved underwear bomb. Officials said the latest bomb was an updated model with a more effective detonation system and one that would probably have gone undetected by airport screening; we hate to think about what these people will try to do next.

The BBC has further details:

President Barack Obama was first informed of the plot in April, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, adding the device had not posed a threat to the public.

The BBC’s Mark Mardell in Washington says the plot, disrupted as a result of US co-operation with other unnamed intelligence agencies, appears to have been caught at a relatively early stage – after the making of the bomb, but before the public was put at risk.

Via Meadia salutes those whose vigilance and dedication have made this country safer. But this latest plot highlights a subject that makes the Obama administration uncomfortable—the war on terror is not over. Osama Bin Laden may be dead but religious fanatics remain intent on killing innocent American civilians. The threat to America is as real as ever, and fighting it is a bigger, more complicated and more fraught enterprise than simple police work.

Thankfully, despite the rhetorical shift (a pivot designed to allow the administration to deflect coverage to its other foreign policy priorities), President Obama has prosecuted the War on Terror Conflict Formerly Known As the Global War on Terror with as much zeal as his predecessor.

The desire to fight the war while calling it something else has in some ways made life harder for the administration. President Obama as much as President Bush believes that the threat is urgent enough to justify all kinds of emergency activity outside the normal activities of a constitutional government—such as raining death down on suspected wrongdoers through drone strikes. It is much easier and more sensible to justify that kind of move as an act of war than as an act of policing. If we must delegate this kind of power to a Chief Executive (and Via Meadia sadly believes that we must), that power should go to him in his war powers as Commander in Chief rather than as a general law enforcement power. If you aren’t fighting a war, killing bad guys all over the world shouldn’t be part of your daily routine.

The president’s commitment to his non-war war has paid off: al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self, both in terms of its operational capability as well as its popularity throughout the Muslim world. The combination of increased intelligence gathering and the controversial use of drones has been remarkably successful in combating terrorism throughout the Middle East. One day before officials revealed the AQAP plot it was reported that yet another top al-Qaeda operative was killed by a drone strike in Yemen. So far as we know, no cease and desist orders and no Miranda warnings were delivered before the drone hit.

The underwear bomb maker is still at large; we hope and expect that the administration is going after him with all the intensity and focus at its command. The White House thinks that not calling this a war makes it easier to win; we think they are are wrong about that, but at the end of the day we are more interested in winning than in nomenclature.

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  • EvilBuzzard

    But The War On Terror is over. It was all just a bumper-sticker slogan anyway. President Gutsy-Call got Osama and the issue is SETTLED.

  • Anthony

    WRM, a related idea: “terrorism is a form of asymmetrical warfare…which leverages the psychology of fear to create emotional damage that is disproportionate to its damage in lives or property” (fathomability and dread are important contributors). Most importantly, fallacies in risk perception distort public policy.

  • Jim.

    If we’re going to be more precise in our language without regard to political correctness, please refer to these enemies as “Muslim fanatics” instead of “religious fanatics.”


  • Agim Zabeli

    “(A)t the end of the day we are more interested in winning than in nomenclature.”

    Well, certainly. But the clarity is important. If we are killing people like there’s a war on, while the government is pretending there is no war, how do we know when the government shold be made to cease?

  • Luke Lea

    When you think that since 9/11 the number of US casualties caused by foreign Al Quaeda forces in this country is zero you have to ask yourselves what kind of war this is supposed to be?

    And about the high-tech detonation device, it wasn’t a match by chance?

  • Kris

    “The White House thinks that not calling this a war makes it easier to win; we think they are are wrong about that”

    You are very generous; I would suspect that the White House is merely trying to save face.

    But really, how do you expect us to take this thoughtful post seriously when it starts off with: “They were trying a new and improved underwear bomb”?

  • Cunctator

    I hope that al Qaeda has to test (on themselves, of course) many prototypes of the latest underwear bomb. What would really be justice is that the “test pilots” of these contraptions survive (although not wholly intact) the experience.

  • Asscheeks of Saturn

    Seriously, do you expect me to swallow this?
    1. The news is three weeks old.
    2. The agent was a Saudi agent.
    The only message I get from this is that Obama’s regime won’t keep a secret if there is a political gain to be squeezed from it.

    See Arpaio, Sheriff Joe.

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