America vs Al Qaeda:The Times Square Bomb Scare

Reminds you of the Hurt Locker...

The news of the Times Square bomb scare came to me in the early hours of Sunday. Like most other New Yorkers, we were out on a Saturday night, blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding.  As I flipped through to CNN at 2am, the news was sobering and chilling at the same time – New York City is simultaneously the largest and most claustrophobic city in the world. One glance outside my Brooklyn window and I could make out the lights of crime scene, neons blazing away.

There has been a strange contradiction of reactions from the fallout. The overall reaction from the noisemakers is far less than of the Nigerian underwear bomber. New Yorkers, as always took it in stride, but lets look at the media

From the left, Jonathan Chait at TNR Blog claimed victory for the good guys: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/al-qaeda-loses-again

Over on the right, a typical reaction was this: http://www.balloon-juice.com/2010/05/02/lessons-from-a-misspent-youth/

The claims of the Pakistani Taliban were mostly dismissed as bluster, and judging from news reports that is probably the case. American news media seems relieved at a crisis averted, and the natural tendencies to scoff at our enemies incompetence serves well to bolster popular morale, although its pretty easy to detect a uneasy undercurrent humming along.

However, whether or not the Pakistani Taliban or Al Qaeda or Anti-South-Parkian nut was responsible, the effect of the incident was far different abroad than reflected here in the U.S.

In any country with either an outright hostility to the States, or with countries sympathetic to the same and resentful to the States, the message was far more ominous.

They, who-ever they may be, managed to get a car bomb into  the heart of Times Square, a visual image that has stunning resonance across the globe. In the terms of probability, no-one debates that the likelihood of another terrorist attack on American soil is near inevitable.

In geopolitical terms, this was the equivalent of Luke Skywalker hurling down to the Death Star and squeezing a photon torpedo through that tiny little gullet – except the torpedo didn’t go off this time.

Not exactly a Nissan Pathfinder, but you get the idea...

To terrorists across the spectrum it’s psychologically emboldening to have struck so close to the nerve center.  Failure has not exactly discouraged these people in the past.

It’s okay to pat oneself on the back and breathe a sigh of relief – but its more important to realize that terrorism operates psychologically, and a failed bombing doesn’t mean there are no casualties.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “America vs Al Qaeda:The Times Square Bomb Scare

  1. Brandon T

    “In geopolitical terms, this was the equivalent of Luke Skywalker hurling down to the Death Star and squeezing a photon torpedo through that tiny little gullet – except the torpedo didn’t go off this time.”

    This is more like a retarded kid with a rock going up against the death star.

    I think your point that there’s nothing stopping someone from carrying out an attack like this is important. The fact that there’s very little besides outright idiocy and incompetence (trying to blow up a propane cylinder with fireworks?) preventing this sort of thing means that the number of people able and WILLING to do this sort of thing is unbelievably vanishingly small.

    • Thanks for the comment…but I’m not sure I gather what you mean. If my point is important, then how do you gather that the number of people willing and ABLE to do this sort of thing is vanishing? If a neo-conservative blogger is helpfully pointing out that M-80 firecrackers are decidedly amateurish, it doesn’t take too much genius to figure out a working solution. This is despite the omnipresent, $24 million dollar surveillance system installed by New York City to safeguard against such an attack – except that the technology to analyse all that surveillance to PREVENT an attack as opposed to simply conduct forensic evidence afterwards remains far away. As evidenced by many occasions, America’s enemies do not care about being filmed. The actual mechanics of making the car explode are unimportant. The fact that even the threat was made right to the heart is the real propaganda victory. Finally, let’s not forget, Islamic jihad’s finest propaganda moments lie in pictures of a Palestinian kid throwing a rock against an Israeli tank.
      It is late though, so perhaps I am misinterpreting your comment…thanks again for commenting, you are the first on the blog!

  2. Brandon T

    I mostly had problems with your Luke Skywalker analogy. You’re arguing that it’s hubris for us to not have stronger safeguards against a car bombing in New York. My point is that there’s nothing stopping attacks from happening now–but that nonetheless they don’t happen. In fact, when they do, they’re committed by people who are laughably incompetent and untrained.

    What are we to conclude from this? That there are very few people in the US willing to carry out terrorist attacks, and that those who are seem to be mostly incompetent nuts–and so the lack of security measures is completely justified. This personally amazes me, but I think it emphasizes the fact that the training and willingness to carry out a terrorist attack is more rare that one would think.

    Contrary to your statement, I don’t think that this is “emboldening” to terrorists. Why? Because this is not like a child with a rock up against a tank. This is an incompetent attack against a soft, unfortified target of questionable significance. Compare this to the 9/11 attack, where two well-known symbols of America were completely demolished in an astonishingly competent fashion. The reason why Al Qaeda doesn’t attempt small-scale nonsense like this (blowing up theaters, shooting up shopping malls, suicide bombers) in the US is because they don’t really care about the US opinion–they want to rile and unite Muslims, and they can only accomplish that by striking very significant targets in a competent fashion. Such attacks are also very difficult to pull off.

    • I fail to see where Times Square, the heart of New York City, and in the mindview of a Muslim youth in South Asia, the center of capitalistic excess and hedonism that virtually embodies America is of “questionable significance”. New York is far more of a hard target than a movie theater in Tennessee or a public square in Houston, given the extraordinary security measures, the media centers within the city, and the previous history of successful attacks.

      While I agree that such attacks are very difficult to pull off, the laws of probability dictate it will happen eventually despite any preventive measures taken. A potential terrorist now knows from Faisal Shahzad’s well documented errors what NOT to do in order to successfully carry out an attack. America’s large immigrant base increases these odds.

      I feel you are overly cavalier in dismissing the propaganda effects of this event. You are correct in assuming that Al Qaeda does not really care about U.S. opinion – that is a secondary goal. However this failed attempt still serves as a rallying point towards impressionable Muslim youths. The tantalizing theater, drama and recognition from a successful attack is only magnified by the failure of this one, and the mocking attitude of Americans towards a near miss.

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