If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

What We Learned from Times Square

A Commentary By Joe Conason

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Within hours after the car bomb fizzled in Times Square, the nonstop noise resumed on Fox News and talk radio, warning that the Barack Obama administration is failing to protect us. Evidently, the president and his aides don't say "terror" and "terrorism" sufficiently often to make it go away, according to the professional noisemakers. If you believe that kind of nonsense, then you are listening too much to the professional noisemakers and may have caused damage to your mental health.

It is not surprising that the right-wing media are preoccupied with ideological clowning and cheap partisanship, even at a moment when hundreds of Americans just barely escaped peril. This vapid entertainment was captured perfectly in a Fox News video segment (which can be viewed on the Media Matters for America Website). At the very moment Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson groused that government officials "refuse to say the word 'terror,'" the electronic scroll directly beneath her image reported that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had indeed referred to the car bomb as "a potential terrorist attack."

Such semantic carping suggests that the right-wing talking heads cannot find -- or even invent -- a serious complaint about the Times Square incident. Perhaps that is because the response of government at all levels so far has been effective. The blocks surrounding the bomb were swiftly evacuated, and the bomb squad quickly disarmed the device. Then the suspected perp was apprehended within 48 hours, just as he seemed to have been attempting escape on a flight to Dubai.

So whether government officials talk about terrorism -- or use it to frighten the public, as George W. Bush administration officials so often did -- seems to have little to do with whether they can adequately protect us.

The real lessons from the latest attempted attack on New York are less political and more practical. The first line of defense is an alert citizenry, a message that New Yorkers absorbed years ago. The next is a highly trained police force that can respond instantly and effectively, while constantly evaluating, anticipating and monitoring potential threats.

Under the leadership of Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the New York City Police Department developed those capacities, in no small part because he lacked confidence in the federal counterterrorism bureaucracy. As Christopher Dickey reported in his excellent 2009 book "Securing the City," Kelly created a special counterterrorism force that ventured well beyond the traditional boundaries of urban policing. With agents working in cities abroad, front companies and community surveillance, the NYPD gathers copious intelligence that has thwarted numerous plots against the city, including schemes to bomb synagogues and subway stations.

What is now known as "intelligence-led policing" has become a model for the nation and the world.

Yet this time, the car bomb came close to completing its murderous mission despite the vigilance of New York's people and the skill and bravery of New York's cops. The reason is quite simple: There is no foolproof way to stop every single terrorist attack, even in countries that permit far less freedom of movement and association than the United States. Many of the worst attacks have been carried out in authoritarian countries, such as Russia, where the state security forces do not hesitate to use intrusive and brutal methods.

Still, New York's experience in protecting itself against an enemy that conspires to kill its people every day is instructive. Rather than stigmatize Muslims through profiling, as various numbskulls in Congress and on TV would recommend, the city has cultivated relationships with the mainstream Islamic community.

Among the critical lessons that Kelly learned from Sept. 11 was the importance of language skills -- so he and his deputies have recruited scores of officers who speak useful dialects of Arabic and Pashto, among others. Another key lesson was that the most likely terrorist recruits were young men who had withdrawn from the local mosques, which don't promote jihadism.

Unfortunately learning from New York is scarcely on the minds of right-wing pundits, some of whom even seem disappointed when the terrorists fail. But that kind of nihilistic rage is too often what passes for patriotism in this country now.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.

COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

See Other Political Commentary.

See Other Commentary by Joe Conason.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.