I just got to my computer now, which has me many hours behind early risers, let alone those early risers on the East Cost. I’m therefore only just assimilating the news about the foiled plot to blow up multiple US-bound British planes in the air. My first thought on hearing the news was that, maybe, just maybe, this will break people’s complacency and strike a mortal blow at the peacenik’s naive believe that all we need to do is sit down and talk to the terrorists. I then realized that was a ridiculous hope. Because, in these people’s minds, we, not the terrorists, are the enemy, this will be viewed as nothing more than a propaganda coup. That is, the narrative will be converted into a conspiracy between the American and British secret services to frame innocent British Pakistanis so as to strike fear into the British and American public, therefore shoring up War support.
Indeed, even if the planes had blown up, the narrative would have been unchanged. Why do I know this? I know this because more than a third of Americans think the US government attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000 American citizens, so as to have an excuse to flex its imperialist muscles. That they manage to think this all evidence to the contrary shows that it will take a paradigm shift of nuclear proportions (and I don’t use that phrase lightly) to remove them from the anti-American camp.
In any event, while I’m late to today’s big news, one of the virtues is that I’m in time for other people’s analyses. The first I got this morning, in my inbox, came from Stratfor. Their initial conclusions are actually comforting, not frightening, when it comes to analyzing Al Qaeda’s strength:
First, while there obviously remains a threat from those not only sympathetic to al Qaeda, but actually participating in planning with those in the al Qaeda apex leadership, their ability to launch successful attacks outside of the Middle East is severely degraded.
Second, if the cell truly does have 50 people and 21 have already been detained, then al Qaeda might have lost its ability to operate below the radar of Western — or at least U.K. — intelligence agencies. Al Qaeda’s defining characteristic has always been its ability to maintain operational security. If that has been compromised, then al Qaeda’s importance as a force has diminished greatly.
Third, though further attacks could occur, it appears al Qaeda has lost the ability to alter the political decision-making of its targets. The Sept. 11 attack changed the world. The Madrid train attacks changed a government. This failed airliner attack only succeeded in closing an airport temporarily.
Fourth, the vanguard of militant Islam appears to have passed from Sunni/Wahhabi al Qaeda to Shiite Iran and Hezbollah. It is Iran that is shaping Western policies on the Middle East, and Hezbollah who is directly engaged with Israel. Al Qaeda, in contrast, appears unable to do significantly more than issue snazzy videos.
Of course, the above, while allowing me to feel less worried about Al Qaeda, notes that there has simply been a shift in the terrorist center, from Al Qaeda, to Hezbollah/Iran. Currently, those terrorist entities (and, even though Iran is a nation, I count it as a terrorist entity) are focusing their energies on conventional warfare waged against Israel, which they view as the US proxy in the Middle East. I wonder whether they will maintain that traditional military focus or, as Al Qaeda retreats, creating a vacuum for headline grabbing attacks on civilians, if Hezbollah/Iran will also move to fill that gap.
UPDATE: I was prescient. I just tuned in to the second hour of Michael Medved and heard him announce that, during the first hour, he reported on (and talked to) all the people who claim that the arrests in Britain are just a Rove-ian plot to advance the Bush war machine. I’m working on some deadline intense material today, so won’t follow up on it, but I bet all of you can quickly find places on the internet that develop that theme.