Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 14, 2010

A TALE OF TWO FAILED PLOTS.... Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was at the center of a terrorist plot to kill Americans last year. Najibullah Zazi was at the center of a terrorist plot to kill Americans last year. Both targeted U.S. transportation -- Abdulmutallab intended to attack on a plane, Zazi on a New York subway -- and both, fortunately, were thwarted and taken into custody.

The former became the subject of intense media interest, heated political debate, and far-right apoplexy. The latter has been largely ignored, especially by conservatives. Kevin Drum wonders why.

Am I missing something here? Because I don't remember Fox News putting Zazi on a 24/7 loop and insisting that trial in a civilian court was basically a surrender to al-Qaeda. The right wing world doesn't seem to be objecting to this latest development, either. Why? Is blowing up an airplane somehow different from blowing up a subway? Are civilian courts and Miranda rights OK if the terrorist plot is broken up before it can be carried out, but not after? Or what? I'm a little confused about the conservative position on this stuff. Help me out.

The disconnect is interesting, isn't it? Zazi, who was reportedly close to executing the worst domestic terrorist attack since 9/11, was treated the same way all suspected terrorists taken into U.S. custody are treated -- law enforcement prevented the attack, arrested the suspect, read him his rights, gave him a lawyer, charged him, and put him behind bars.

This should, in theory, outrage Republicans, right? GOP official don't believe counter-terrorism is a law enforcement issue, don't want suspected terrorists to be treated like criminals, and don't want them to be imprisoned on American soil. So why would the right stay silent?

I suspect it's because the Zazi case makes the Obama administration look fantastic, and conservatives would just as soon hope that no American ever hears about the story at all.

Indeed, this story is a classic example of the American system working to perfection, executed by officials who got everything right. A radical, al Qaeda-recruited terrorist and some accomplices were close to setting off deadly explosives in the two busiest subway stations in New York City. The consequences would have been devastating had they succeeded. Instead, federal officials learned of the plot, realized the attack was near, and prevented a catastrophe.

Once in custody, the administration followed the rule of law and it worked wonders -- Zazi cooperated with authorities, provided valuable intelligence, and rolled over on his accomplices. There was no torture, no military commissions, no Gitmo.

By any reasonable measure, from top to bottom, this was counter-terrorism working beautifully. The U.S. officials who made this happen are heroes.

So, why aren't Republicans whining incessantly? Because that would shine a light on the case, and that's the last thing conservatives want.

Conversely, why don't Democrats shine a light on the case, and maybe try to bring the story to the public's attention? Perhaps because, even now, Dems choose not to emphasize national security, even when it's a tremendous victory for a Democratic administration.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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The U.S. officials who made this happen are heroes.

If you keep writing about this stuff, eventually the echo chamber will find a way to spin it against Obama and they will run with it. I can see it now, Rush wondering aloud why this administration hates law enforcement officials so much that they try to keep this wonderful news secret?

But it will only become right wing news when they figure out how to make it work against Obama.

Posted by: majun on April 14, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Conversely, why don't Democrats shine a light on the case

I suspect we may have a President who is too much a grown up for the times.

Since he is a sports fan, I'll use a sports analogy. I suspect Obama feels like having a big celebration over a single foiled plot when there is still substantial danger from terrorism is like those annoying NFL wide receivers who catch a 12 yard pass in the middle of an early season game and taunt, pose and fist-pump like they just caught the impossible game winner in the Super Bowl.

Similarly, in any rational world, this week's nuclear security summit should have been politically game-changing -- he should be up 20 points. But it isn't TV-friendly substance. Nonetheless, Obama -- well into a key election year -- spent his time doing great, but unfashionable, work that will pay long-term dividends rather than do much for the 2010 elections. Why do it? Because its what grown ups do.

Posted by: zeitgeist on April 14, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

I too am amazed by the lack of hysteria. If this had happened during the Bush administration, the panic and fear would be palpable. We'd be at the orange level and every citizen would be bombarded with warnings and fear-mongering.

Posted by: Menthol on April 14, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Part of the problem is much simpler than that.

Airplanes are a scarier way to travel than Subways. Everyone who boards a plane thinks briefly about what could go wrong in a way that Subway riders simply don't. The story about Undiebomber therefore has more legs independent of any strategic considerations.

Posted by: Paul Dirks on April 14, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

A few more of these, and one might think the MSM is in the (deep) pockets of the Republican Party. . .

Posted by: DAY on April 14, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Why don't Democrats make a big deal of this? Because they're too habituated to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 14, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

"So, why aren't Republicans whining incessantly? Because that would shine a light on the case, and that's the last thing conservatives want."

I don't like to say it, but I suspect more people than I are thinking it - Conservatives aren't saying much about it because they are secretly disappointed it didn't succeed, or at least escalate further before being discovered. Not because they want Americans to be killed and/or injured, of course; I don't think any of them are really that far gone yet. But there are ample recent historical incidences of conservatives speaking longingly of a galvanizing event that would promote the feeling of warlike unity that existed after 9-11. Those were the glory days for conservative nutjobs, and the nostalgia for them is overwhelming.

Posted by: Mark on April 14, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats are losers. They don't have much media. They don't have millions of dittoheads. They don't have a killer instinct. And they don't function like a well-oiled machine. What's not to love?

The glassy-eyed zealots on the Right should give everyone a moment's pause. And eventually they will.

Posted by: walt on April 14, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Pssst! Don't tell anybody, but subways are also more likely to be frequented by (cough) those people.

Plus they tend to be in those evil liberal cities.

Just sayin'...

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on April 14, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

You mean the conservative propagandists can't spin this for their minions? I don't see why not. Let me try:

"This goes to show that terrorists are emboldened by the weak anti-terror policies of the Obama administration."

It's easy to do! Maybe I can get a FOX gig.

Posted by: Howlin Wolfe on April 14, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Dems choose not to emphasize national security

I think it is emphasized enough, they just choose not to politicize it, by getting all up in your face with every little victory. A little more classy, I'd say.

Posted by: Marko on April 14, 2010 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

OK, so the Replicants prefer that the military interdict suspected terrorists, which has so far snagged a few probable actual terrorists and a lot of by-now really pissed off former innocents; military detention, which is no more secure than federal prison, and offers plenty of propaganda opportunity to our enemies; "enhanced interrogation," aka torture, which is not effective at extracting useful information and offers even more propaganda opportunities to our enemies; and military tribunals, which so far haven't yielded a single conviction of a terrorist.

Every one of these approaches demonstrably helps diminish our national security. Continued support of such counterproductive policies is tantamount to treason.

The question to ask wingnut supporters of these harmful activities is: "Why do you hate America so much?"

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on April 14, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

TCinLA is right. Democrats are so used to losing they don't know what to do when they win. Steve B. is also right that they don't know what to do with a positive national security story. That is how the Republicans came to own national security, even though their actions have harmed national security.

Posted by: Steve on April 14, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

It's disturbing the extent to which Republicans and Fox News hold sway over what is and is not newsworthy.

Posted by: EricB on April 14, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

This also proves how much the MSM is led by the nose by Republican talking points. If the right doesn't scream and yell, it can't be news.

Posted by: bruce k on April 14, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

It's reminiscent of Ressam, the LA airport would-be bomber. Remember him? Back before 9/11, in a different world, our intelligence and security forces stopped a major plot, treated the perp like a criminal, used the justice system, got good actionable intelligence and kept us safe. After 9/11 it almost was like that event never happened.

I saw one article on the nuke summit that cited an ABC poll on the summit's outcome. I forget the data but they were asking whether "people" thought the summit would be successful. I couldn't stop laughing. It's hardly misantropic to say that "people" have absolutely no way of knowing if an event like that would be successful. It's like asking "people" if the Earth were going to someday be hit by a large astroid; "people" just have no idea.

Posted by: Mark on April 14, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Conversely, why don't Democrats shine a light on the case, and maybe try to bring the story to the public's attention?

The Democrats have a crappy media machine and even worse message discipline.

Posted by: thorin-1 on April 14, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

"Why don't Democrats make a big deal of this?"

Because everyone knows that democrats are 'weak on defense and security'. For democrats to contradict this would be 'spitting in the face' of the Villagers.

If a tree falls in an empty remote forest, does it make a sound?

If a democrat proclaims anything positive on national security and the empty forest of the corporately owned media refuse to hear them, do they still make a sound?

Posted by: SadOldVet on April 14, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

It might help come Nov if Dems in difficult election races mentioned this when campaigning as another reason why it's a good idea to elect them, ie. to support competent handling of such problems and creation of effective policy. I bet most of the electorate doesn't even recall this story or connect it to an election, given all the distractions from the Right/TP about junk "issues." Wish I had faith that our Dem representatives can/will make this case in ways that appeal to both logic-based and emotion-based voters. They seem to constantly miss opportunities to remind people with simple stories and analogies of the value of having them in govt.

Posted by: pea on April 14, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK
Plus they tend to be in those evil liberal cities.

I still remember when Ann Coulter lamented that McVeigh hadn't blown up the headquarters of the New York Times instead of the Murragh Building.

Posted by: noncarb on April 14, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

It's really very simple. If you're an infotainment company looking for ratings, what would you cover? The guy who was captured with good old fashioned police work, or the guy who LIT HIS BALLS ON FIRE in the air? The burning balls will win every time.

Plus don't forget there was that backstory about us ignoring warnings from his own father. That kept it alive for a long time because infotainment got to say "your government failed you!"

Quiet success, as in the Zazi case, makes for low ratings.

Posted by: Ted on April 14, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Zazi in the Metro" is an old, old film, besides being French. And you want the press to be talking about it still? Here?

Posted by: exlibra on April 14, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

exlibra, you crack me up.

Posted by: zeitgeist on April 14, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Si drole, comme d'habitude, exlibra.

Posted by: Mark on April 14, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Everyone should know by now that Dems, especially the current crop, are the light-under-a-bushel types. They're afraid the cons will shoot them down if they toot their own horns, or explain what what's actually in a bill (See HIR).

Posted by: CDW on April 14, 2010 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

It's easy: while the Detroit bombing would have happened in the midwest, the subway bombing would have been in New York, and we all *know* that New Yorkers aren't "real Amurricans," right?

Groan,
-Z

Posted by: Zorro on April 14, 2010 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, fond memories of my rather rakish (for the 1980s) high-school French teacher giving us Zazie dans le Metro to read and making us promise not to tell our parents. Meanwhile, my English teacher in the room next door did a dramatic reading of the Miller's Tale and made us promise not to tell our parents. It was a simpler time.

Posted by: shortstop on April 14, 2010 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well remember there were No terrorist attacks in the US on Bush's watch....so stupid. I know it is wrong to call these people that are stupid but that is the nicest thing I can say.

Posted by: mishanti on April 14, 2010 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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