Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Times Square Bomb Plot, and an Incisive Critique by Dana Milbank

Dana Milbank continues to write some of the best opinion pieces of anyone (and he pumps them out at an amazing pace; it seems like some weeks he has articles 5 or 6 days).

I love the way he uses people's words to illustrate the (often) absurd nature of democratic politics -- or at least the way democracy's practiced in America in 2010.

This week Milbank wrote (here) about the Administration's inappropriate gloating after their capture of Faisal Shahzad, the US citizen who tried to blow up an SUV in Times Square last week and then was able to board an overseas flight even though his name had been put on the federal watch list.

Milbank's article captured my response to the Administration's reaction to what happened: I heard an interview with Janet Napolitano on NPR in which she was entirely, inappropriately preening.

I generally like Napolitano -- she strike me as exceedingly devoted to public service and commited to doing an excellent job in whatever role she's asked to serve (you have to be real courageous to accept the appointment as Homeland Security chief; it strikes me as the ultimate no-win government job) -- but she did not impress me in this interview. There was too much focus on "we did everything right" and not nearly enough on big-picture thinking about how to address the possibility of terrorism.

Here's an excerpt from Milbank:

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described the car bomb using a term popularized by an Oscar-winning film. "That lethal assembly really made a very big hurt locker," he said, shifting from there to the television drama "24." "By my calculation, from the time Faisal Shahzad drove into and across Broadway and parked that vehicle until when he was apprehended last evening at JFK airport, it was 53 hours and 20 minutes. Now, we know that Jack Bauer can do it in 24 [hours]. But in the real world, 53 is a pretty good number."

Yes, but 11 isn't. That's the number of times the people onstage thanked one another and everybody else, from the street vendors in New York who spotted the smoking SUV to the reporters in the room. Add in the various other forms of commendation and attaboys/attagirls, and a whole lot of celebrating was going on in the halls of Justice on Tuesday.

Without question, it was brilliant police work that allowed authorities to identify, track and nab the suspect just before he fled the country. But crowing about a victory against terrorists is dangerous business. The only thing that stopped the Times Square would-be bomber from succeeding was that he, like the Christmas Day would-be bomber, was inept. And while it may be better to be lucky than good, at some point the luck will run out -- it's just not possible to stop every terrorist -- and celebrating the arrest of the Times Square suspect will look naive in retrospect.

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