America’s security hawks are using the revelation about the Iranian thugocracy’s plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador and in other ways spread terror on U.S. soil to argue that America’s decade-long jihad against global terror must proceed full speed ahead. The Wall Street Journal intoned this morning:
To those, notably an emerging isolationist wing in the Republican party, who've argued lately that the U.S. should pull its efforts back from a waning international terrorist threat to focus on domestic concerns, this event is a wake-up call.
No it’s not. It’s actually an argument for Americans to take a deep breath and relax. Their enemies are a bunch of bumbling fools and not all that dangerous.
There was never any doubt that there are some really awful people out there who would like to do some really awful things to America. But just because they want to doesn’t mean they can. Intentions are not capacity. In fact, transnational terrorism (as opposed to local terrorism) is an exceedingly difficult enterprise that is inherently limited by the unavailability of talent. As I wrote previously, in order to be successful in America, the would-be terrorists have to combine a rare skill set. They have to be:
[R]adicalized enough to die for their cause; Westernized enough to move around without raising red flags; ingenious enough to exploit loopholes in the security apparatus; meticulous enough to attend to the myriad logistical details that could torpedo the operation; self-sufficient enough to make all the preparations without enlisting outsiders who might give them away; disciplined enough to maintain complete secrecy, and—above all—psychologically tough enough to keep functioning at a high level without cracking in the face of their own impending death.
There is nothing to suggest that the Iranians came even close to getting the right guys for the job.
Consider the facts.
One: The entity allegedly doing the plotting in this case was not some raggedy al Qaeda peasant army but Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Qods, an elite unit of the Iranian army, kind of like our special forces. It is unclear whether he had official blessing or not, although Eric Holder et al are strongly suggesting that he did and the Iranian government is strongly claiming that he didn’t. If Holder is right, then Shakuri had virtually unlimited resources to hire and train the best and brightest in the terrorism business anywhere to sow mayhem in the United States. Yet who did he find? Manssor Arbabsia, a not-very-bright 56-year-old divorce´ who once sold used cars for a living and liked to party.
Even more tellingly, Arbabsia, a naturalized citizen who lived in Texas, recruited not fellow disaffected Muslims in America for the job, possibly because he couldn’t find any. Rather, he turned to members of a Mexican drug cartel who he knew were unreliable. Hilariously, he complained to his Iranian accomplice that: “they’re not ordinary people…they’re not law-abiding.”
Really? You don’t say!
Two: Even the Mexican drug cartel guy turned out not to be the Mexican drug cartel guy but a paid DEA informant. This fact is crucial because it shows that had American authorities themselves not stepped in and plugged a critical operational hole, there might not have been a plot. The whole thing might have withered on the vine.
Incidentally, it is unclear whether Arbabsia ever made contact with an authentic cartel person. That, however, hasn’t prevented Thomas Donnelly of the Weekly Standard from declaring himself deeply disturbed that “Iran’s thugs are developing a strategic partnership with Los Zetas, Mexico’s most violent thugs.” Talk about adding two plus two and getting twenty-two.
Ten years have gone by since 9-11 without Islamists pulling off a single new terrorist attack on U.S. soil. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep an eye on things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t use every little move and antic of would-be terrorists as a justification to continue a two trillion dollar—and still counting—war on terrorism.