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You Wouldn’t Like Us When We’re, Uh, Really Angry

By Matt Duss on May 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm

"You Wouldn’t Like Us When We’re, Uh, Really Angry"

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Dabbling in the conservative tactic of hailing failed terrorist attacks (under Democratic administrations) as “successes,” Max Boot writes “Terrorism has always been designed to make more of a psychological than a physical impact. By that standard, the Times Square bomber, whoever he is, has succeeded”:

Granted, the SUV packed with propane was an amateurish vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. It is, thankfully, worlds away from the sort of sophisticated truck bombs that al-Qaeda in Iraq has used to create carnage in Baghdad. Yet, nevertheless, it dominates news coverage in the “Great Satan” in a way that far more costly bombings overseas do not.

Yes, it’s true: Terrorist attacks — even failed terrorist attacks — inside the United States tend to receive more coverage inside the United States than terrorist attacks outside the United States. I don’t really know what to make of the fact that Boot thinks there’s something strange about this.

Even though I’ve just returned to the country after being away for a few days, my impression of the coverage tracks with Yglesias’ — that the response to the failed Times Square bomber has thus far been much less of a freak-out than the response to the failed Christmas Underwear Bomber.

Boot, on the other hand, perceives the responses as similar:

The very hysteria we currently exhibit — or that was evident after the Christmas Day attempted airline bombing — only make it clear to terrorists what an inviting target the American homeland remains. Of course they had better be careful. Al-Qaeda surely did not reckon with the size of the American response after 9/11; Osama bin Laden reportedly expected that we would fire a few cruise missiles and leave it at that. If a future terrorist attack succeeds on such a scale, the perpetrators may well come to regret their actions. In a way, then, such low-level attacks as the one in Times Square are actually more useful to terrorists than more successful bombings: they create terror but avoid a serious backlash.

First, while the understandable tendency of the news media to cover the heck out of these stories does, unfortunately, facilitate and amplify the terrorists’ intended effect, I think Boot is eliding the significant role that right wing pundits (like Bill Kristol and Britt Hume and Laura Ingraham, for example) played in promoting the failed Christmas Underwear bombing as a “success,” effectively doing Al Qaeda’s PR for them.

Second, “a serious backlash”? Like, say, an ongoing campaign of drone strikes against Al Qaeda’s top leadership? Leaving aside whether the strikes are, on balance, effective — I think there’s good evidence that, given the level of civilian casualties resulting from these strikes, and the broad moral and legal issues inherent in what are basically just assassinations, they’re not — I’m curious what Boot has in mind here. I understand that one of the central tenets of neoconservatism is that there’s no problem in foreign policy that cannot be solved by the application of even more military force, but what would Boot’s “backlash” look like? The invasion and occupation of more countries?

Actually, forget I asked.

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