The Case of the Bungling Bomber, who tried to blow up Times Square with over-the-counter firecrackers and backyard-barbecue propane tanks, launched a lot of late-night television jokes but was no laughing matter. If the crude device had worked - and with a bit more expertise in assembly it might have - it could have caused a lot of damage and casualties. But the point of the story is not simply that a would-be bomber screwed up, or that the authorities managed to catch the suspect in fairly rapid fashion (although he did manage to board a plane bound for the Persian Gulf). The point is that here is yet another manifestation of the hostility in the Muslim world towards the United States, hostility that grows and spreads in proportion to U.S. efforts to stamp it out with combat boots. In the case of Faisal Shahzad the hostility simmered not in the caves of the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan, or in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but in the heart of an educated middle-class husband and father living in the U.S.
The episode is also further proof, as if any were needed, of the inanity of the mantra heard so often during the Bush years, "We gotta fight 'em over there so we won't have to fight 'em at home." Can anyone still think that is true? We are fighting them at home already, as the Shahzad story shows, because we are fighting them "over there."
Attorney General Eric Holder said on NBC's Meet the Press and ABC's This Week, the evidence trail in the Shahzad case led straight to the Pakistani Taliban, who apparently recruited, trained and financed Shahzad. And the growth of the Pakistani Taliban can be linked to the U.S. military activities which have bled across the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, notably the missile strikes at suspected terrorist targets by unmanned Predator drones. True, the drone strikes have eliminated a number of high-ranking Taliban and al Qaeda operatives, but that seems to be a case of solving one problem but creating new ones in the process, in the form of stronger ties and more cooperation among the various insurgent/terrorist groups. Even the brilliant Bruce Reidel, the chief civilian architect of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy, told the New York Times's David Sanger, "The pressure we've put on them in the past year has also drawn them together, meaning that the network of alliances is getting stronger, not weaker."
When President George W. Bush was asked if he thought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had not created converts to the jihad against the U.S., he pointed out that the U.S. was not at war with any Muslim country on 9/11/2001. True, but the U.S. had a large military-industrial footprint in the Persian Gulf, supporting a backward and repressive monarchy in Saudi Arabia (why are we so concerned about the rights of Afghan women, and so unconcerned about the Saudi women?) and it was that footprint that seemed to motivate Osama bin Laden to plot his attacks against American targets in Africa, Yemen, and finally in the U.S. itself.
The Predator strikes in Pakistan may be making the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban nervous, but the strikes are also alienating a large percentage of rank-and-file Pakistanis. They are angry at the U.S. for what they see as violations of Pakistan's sovereignty, and angry at their own government for tacitly approving those violations and even selecting (or suggesting) targets for the strikes. The Pakistani government, the godfathers of the original Afghan Taliban, were years too slow in moving against the growing insurgency on their side of the border, and now they are being bitten by their own snake.
Seven years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq the Iraqis seem to have turned their anger inward and are blowing up each other over internal politics rather than joining the global jihad. But nine years after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that region remains a Petri dish for growing Faisal Shahzads.