Every Saturday the Wall Street Journal runs an essay on the front page of its Weekend Journal section. The article covers in detail a particular subject written by someone who's purportedly an expert in the area. This week's piece ("Homeland Insecurity") deals with the rising security hazard facing the U.S. from home grown terrorists. It was written by Daniel Byman of (among others) the left leaning Brookings Institution.
Much of the article sums up recent threats involving Muslim American citizens. Byman points out that these threats are becoming more serious than they had been. Previous plots uncovered by the FBI were unlikely to succeed, such as one to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge by blowtorching its huge cables. Now there's some evidence of American Muslims with al-Queda connections planning more sophisticated operations.
Byman attributes our good fortune (relative to Europe and Asia) in avoiding terrorist attacks to a number of factors. These include our aggressive actions targeting al-Qaeda, successful intelligence operations by the FBI and other organizations, foreign and domestic, our lack of geographical proximity to Muslim nations, and differences in European and American attitudes toward Muslim immigrants (surprise, surprise - we're more tolerant).
There is one statement made by Byman which I had to read several times and it still doesn't make sense. Writing about the Ft. Hood massacre,
The silver lining is that the Army believes the suspect (Major Hasan) acted alone and without any assistance from other terror groups, a view reflected in their decision to charge him with murder in a military rather than civilian court.
What Byman seems to be saying is that if Hasan acted alone, compelled by his own motives, then it's appropriate to try him in a military court. If he enlisted or accepted help from our enemies, then it becomes a civilian crime to be tried in civilian court.
The first part may be true since Hasan is a soldier and the attack took place on a military base. But if his motivation was killing American GIs as part of a plan hatched by militants waging war against our country, his crime becomes more of a military matter, not less. Indeed, it becomes an act of war. And most of the arguments that apply against AG Eric Holder's outrageous decision to try the 9/11 five in a civilian court would apply to Hasan's case. Paramount among these being the protection of intelligence sources which provided the information of Hasan's (hypothetical) terrorist connections. The only way to make sense of Byman's twisted logic is to see it as an attempted (and pathetic) justification of Holder's decision.
It should also be noted that Hasan, as an American citizen, has an infinitely greater right to a civilian trial than do the illegal enemy combatants KSM and his buddies. Yet Hasan gets a military trial, KSM a civilian trial.
For another incisive column by former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy on the irrationality of the Holder decision, see the link below.
There are other problems with Byman's arguments. He lists three approaches to deterring homegrown terrorist attacks. Here are the first two. (The third is operating outreach programs in Muslim communities in the U.S.).
First, fighting the al Qaeda core in Pakistan should remain at the center of U.S. counterterrorism policy. Having a secure haven is often a make or break issue for terrorist groups, and al Qaeda's growing strength there is a deadly danger. U.S. drone strikes, a program that accelerated near the end of the Bush administration and took off in the first months of Mr. Obama's term, keep al Qaeda off-balance, but they are not a substitute for forcing Pakistan to clean out this haven.
Second, we need to consider how American foreign policy can lead to domestic radicalization. Killing an al Qaeda leader in Somalia is a blow to the organization there, but the decision on whether to pull the trigger or not should also factor in the risk of radicalizing an already alienated immigrant group here at home, not just the operational benefit of removing one leader from the organization.
In other words - 1. Fight al-Qaeda. 2. Don't fight al-Qaeda.
And even if Byman is suggesting that the Pakistanis should carry the fight in their own country, surely he must realize that they've been reluctant and undependable allies in the past. American military support in neighboring Afghanistan and (at the very least) logistical support in Pakistan is essential to prod Islamabad to action.
Byman also doesn't provide a clear answer as to what is causing this sudden increase in viable homegrown threats. He speculates that the al-Qaeda resurgence in Pakistan is providing a base for recruiting and training. Less plausibly he cites American Muslims angered by our airstrikes against al-Qaeda targets in Somalia. We've been in Iraq for almost seven years and in Afghanistan for more than eight. During most of that time, Byman agrees that domestic based terrorism wasn't a significant worry. The evidence seems to indicate that our war making policy is a non-factor in incentivising young American Muslims to radicalize.