For years, hawks have tried to convince us that terrorists, whether affiliated with al-Qaeda or anyone else, are brilliant masterminds of evil with infinite resources who could kill us all at any moment. But once again, we see that actual terrorists tend to be remarkably incompetent. Whoever the guy who tried to blow up an SUV in Times Square was (and there is no evidence yet that he was affiliated with anyone), his knowledge of explosives seems to be about that of the typical sixth-grader. Propane tanks, gasoline canisters, some non-explosive fertilizer (he apparently thought all fertilizer could explode), and firecrackers. Firecrackers?
As The New York times put it, "Investigators believed that the fuses on the firecrackers had been lighted, but they did not explode, officials said. The burning fuses apparently ignited a portion of the Pathfinder’s interior, causing a small fire that filled the inside with smoke, one law enforcement official said." That's some real super-villain stuff there.
Of course we need to be vigilant about potential terrorist attacks -- if the grab-bag of explosive material had gone off, people could have been hurt or killed. But it's yet another reminder that terrorists are not going to take over America. Perhaps the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has drawn much of the attention away, but one might have expected this attempted bombing to be causing more fluttering of hands. I haven't yet seen any of the usual armchair warriors demanding that someone, anyone, be tortured so we can feel safe again, for instance. Could it be that we're actually getting some perspective about these things?
-- Paul Waldman
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