As alarming as the news of the plot to bomb ten U.S.-bound aircraft is, we should all be celebrating today.
The muscular work of the international intelligence community -- including agents from the U.K. and the U.S. and, most important, Pakistan -- has dealt the Al Qaeda movement an embarassing defeat. And it has saved likely thousands of innocent lives.
Unlike the paint-ball gun armed clowns in Florida who daydreamed of felling the Sears tower, this plot appears to have been a sophisticated and viable operation. And unlike in the run-up to 9/11 -- when a tragic failure of imagination meant that the dots between the Islamist flight-school enrollees flagged by the FBI and a presidential daily brief, warning of hijackings and entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.", remained unconnected -- law enforcement on three continents was able to move quickly, in a coordinated fashion, to wrap up this threat before it came to deadly fruition.
And here's the lesson: The best defense against these state-less jihadis who seek our destruction is not, as the Bush administration would have us believe, a good pre-emptive nation-toppling offense by the military -- which to date appears only to have succeeded in strengthening the hands of the "Islamic fascists" Bush seeks to defeat by creating a failed state in Iraq.
Turning Iraq into a Jihadi Disneyland, giving us a venue to fight the terrorists "over there," has not protected us from attack at home. It has been a drain on resources that could have been dedicated to beefing up port and airport and nuclear-regulatory and train and subway and highrise security.
For God's sake we still don't screen the cargo holds of airplanes. We lack dirty-bomb screening radiation detectors at our ports and border crossings. Meanwhile, the gains from the just war we fought to eliminate the Taliban and state support for Al Qaeda have come undone as Afghanistan has deteriorated into a narco-state.
What saved the day yesterday? The professional intelligence capabilities of the FBI, MI5, Scotland Yard, the CIA, and the Pakistani police -- an international dragnet designed to disrupt homicidal plots before they have time to develop.
It's an approach that requires the utmost cooperation of civilized nations against the nihilism of our jihadi foes. It requires much more than "coalitions of the willing"; it requires genuine multilateralism and strong law enforcement alliances even with governments like Pakistan -- hell, even with the secular Baathists in Syria, whom the United States, despite Syrian intelligence assistance in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, now refuses to even engage in a dialogue.
The August 10th victory suggests a better, stronger, smarter way to fight the war launched by our deadliest enemies on September 11th, 2001. It's a shame it has taken us five years to learn the lesson.
(Cross posted from Rolling Stone's National Affairs Daily)