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.
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.