Monday, January 11, 2010

Fareed Zakaria talks sense on the Christmas Day Incident

I wanted to recommend a column this morning (Monday Jan. 11, The Washington Post) by CNN host (of the Global Public Square show on Sundays) Fareed Zakaria. It’s “Don’t Panic: Fear in Al-Qaeda’s Real Goal”, link here. The key sentences in Zakaria’s piece are these: “A Nigerian fanatic with (what appeared to be) a clean background volunteered for service; he was wired up with a makeshift explosive and put on a plane. His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil.” He also notes Senator Diane Feinstein’s reaction, that it is better to “overreact than underreact”. Zakaria has a another point here: if an airline attack is the best that Al Qaeda can do know, it has come way down, however much attention it can get. The real problem is that we can imagine much worse.

I recall a boss in the early 80s who said that the key to success was not to work longer hours but to “work smart”. So the case is here. Right now, the attention is on going to ludicrous attempts to ferret out any possible threat to air travel with all kinds of body analysis, recalling Michael Crichton and his “Andromeda Strain”. Will the day come when passengers have to undergo the humiliation of the “photoflash chamber” in the film based on that novel (Crichton does describe it)? Am I being facetious?

Of course, intelligence on potentially subversive individuals is itself a scary concept, even if for airline security it seems like the most pertinent and cost-effective measure. Why wasn’t the Nigerian rescreened in Amsterdam; why was the screening of a third world country accepted?

But if Al Qaeda wants to scare us, there are a lot of other very soft targets that are impossible to protect with the energy we use for airlines. A lot was written about this shortly after 9/11, and again in the middle of the decade given what happened in Spain and Britain. And a lot of attention needs to be focused on just why someone like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was so persuaded by Internet sites. The underlying psychological issues as to what is going on are scary.

But ultimately groups like Al Qaeda (and the ideology of radical Islam) have to be defeated militarily, diplomatically, politically, and most of all socially.

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