In the Arena

Terror’s Next Wave?

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The leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud–who likely planned the assassination of Benazir Bhutto–has claimed credit for yesterday’s horrific attack at the Pakistani police academy near Lahore, and he is threatening similar attacks in Washington:

“Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world,” Mehsud told The Associated Press by phone.

This is not an insignificant threat: U.S. intelligence officials have been worried since the Mumbai slaughter in December that a new wave of low-tech terrorist attacks are in the offing, less spectacular that 9/11–but horrific nonetheless. “We’ve been lucky, if you can call it that, that Al Qaeda has been fixated on duplicating spectacular plots like 9/11,” one intelligence expert told me. “But these latest attacks may be a sign that we’re facing a new sort of threat.”

The Mumbai effort required no local infrastructure–no sleeper cells in India, nothing more than a few boats to ferry the attackers into Mumbai harbor, plus communications equipment and smalls arms. Similarly, and unlike the elaborate planning that preceded 9/11, Al Qaeda or Taliban terrorists could sneak across the porous Mexican or Canadian borders and hit a shopping mall, a government building, a sports event, a school anywhere in the United States. The effect of such an attack–the immediate call to beef up security everywhere–would be staggering.

Our enemies may have increased motivation now that President Obama has focused on the Taliban safe havens in Northwest Pakistan, and has also decided to put increased pressure on Pakistan–especially its Army and intelligence services–to stop aiding the terrorists. Obama’s low-key reasonableness has the extremists on the defensive and more likely to try to change the conversation with new attacks

Secretary of State Clinton has now acknowledged that the War on Terror is not the Administration’s preferred term of art. She’s right about that–calling the discrete campaign against the band of Islamic extremists who attacked us in 2001 a “war” gave Osama bin Laden and his pals a stature they didn’t deserve. It was too imprecise, too wantonly inclusive. It slopped over into unrelated problems, like North Korea–and to jurisdictional fights, like the Arab-Israeli battle, in which terror has been used as a means to achieve a very specific goal.

But even though we may not call it a “war,” that doesn’t mean the struggle, or the bloodshed, is close to being over. Obama’s new Af/Pak strategy is a necessary move, but not necessarily a safe one, however.

Update: I don’t know what to make of this response from Michael Goldfarb, noxious neocon. If he doesn’t somehow understand that an intensification of  pressure on our real enemies, Al Qaeda and the Taliban–eight years after Bush
let them off the hook–might result in some blowback, he’s dreaming. If he doesn’t understand that Obama’s calm and reasonable demeanor represents a much greater threat to the extremists in the court of world opinion than Bush’s cowboy bluster, he has a limited imagination. If you put those two factors together with a possible turn toward more rudimentary, less spectacular terrorist attacks like Mumbai, you have an increased possibility of  trouble here.

And if, God forbid, those attacks come, you know who’ll be first in line blaming Obama for “not keeping us safe” like Bush. But then, Goldfarb is interested in distortion and smears, not argument.