Weary of a war on terror that has gone on for years, we would like to declare victory and return to normalcy. Last month, a mini-storm erupted when an Obama administration official was said to have told a writer, "The war on terror is over," that al-Qaida had been mostly decimated and that most would-be terrorists have learned to embrace less violent means of expression.
That was April. In May, a group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula thought it had recruited a suicide bomber whose job was to blow up a U.S.-bound plane with a sophisticated device sewn into underwear and intended to pass undetected through airport security. But the bomber was a double-agent working for Saudi Arabia, and he turned over the bomb to authorities.
The war on terror is clearly not over. Al-Qaida's strength has indeed been diminished in some locations, like Pakistan, but in other places it thrives. In unstable regions, such as Yemen, our enemies have room to grow.
Their tactics shift, and our challenge is to be continually vigilant and ready to react.
And not only to react. We've got to maintain a preemptive posture, to anticipate what our enemies' next move might be while aggressively penetrating their operations.
Most of official Washington seems to understand this. FBI Director Robert Mueller said the new al-Qaida bomb is being examined and he recommended that Congress renew extensive surveillance practices. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, reiterated that this latest terrorist attempt, made public on May 7, proves once again the danger al-Qaida represents. "This is a device that was more sophisticated, had some fail-safes built into it, and it was something that concerns us because it tells us that they brought some very capable people together to build something," he said.
What's more, there may be others still out there. Al-Qaida can be expected to add sophistication to future weaponry while we try to stay one step ahead of them.
So far, we have on a few fronts. We have indeed made a dent in their recruiting efforts and our efforts to block attacks continue to be mostly effective.
In regard to airport security, we are exhibiting a healthy reluctance to overreact. In part due to more confidence in our security systems, and in part due to the knowledge that there's only so much disagreeableness we are willing to take, security procedures at airports were basically unchanged after the incident. Other countries, some whose security measures are not so detailed as ours, were advised.
In the end, we need to work in concert to rise above our natural human failings. We can foil dozens of serious attacks, but one mistake can result in the deaths of many.