We attack al Qaeda and the Taliban with Predator drones. They send us a hapless Shoe Bomber, a Christmas plane passenger with underwear that doesn't explode and now the Times Square terrorist who parks a used car full of jerry-rigged junk and leaves a trail of bread crumbs that results in his capture 53 hour later.
Yet, lopsided as this War on and of Terror may be technologically, the score has to be reckoned not only by body counts, which we have mercifully been spared, but the anxiety created in a post-9/11 America.
As Attorney General Eric Holder and a panel of homeland protectors congratulate themselves on camera today for the capture of Faisal Shahzad, the unspoken question that can't be asked or answered is:
If it takes all these resources to deal with what one terrorism expert delicately calls a lack of "tradecraft," how safe are we if and when the enemy sends in an A-Team?
The politicizing of this unanswerable question has yet to start, although John McCain, former opponent of torture, now in full campaign mode, has jumped in to warn against Mirandizing the suspect. (Interrogators actually delayed reading him his rights with a "public safety" exception to the law, although Shahzad has apparently been blabbing before and after.)
Americans must know instinctively that no amount of posturing about toughness can alleviate the knowledge that they have to live with an exposure that can't be demagogued away.
"This incident," the President told them today, "is another sobering reminder of the times in which we live. Around the world and here at home, there are those who would attack our citizens and who would slaughter innocent men, women and children in pursuit of their murderous agenda. They will stop at nothing to kill and disrupt our way of life. But once again, an attempted attack has been failed.
"It has failed because ordinary citizens were vigilant and reported suspicious activity to the authorities. It failed because these authorities--local, state and federal--acted quickly and did what they’re trained to do."
True enough as far as it goes, but the American temperament, especially these days, does not take well to existential uncertainty. Yet, in the War of Terror, that's what we are going to have for a long time to come.