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In Mumbai This Time

Author: Michael J. Gerson, Roger Hertog Senior Fellow
December 5, 2008
The Washington Post


The attacks have come like the steady rhythm of a clock-171 dead in Mumbai. Tick. Fifty-two dead in the London bombings. Tock. One hundred ninety-one dead in the Madrid train attacks. Tick. Two hundred two in Bali, and 2,973 in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Maybe this is just the risk of living in the modern world. Or maybe it is the tick of a detonator.

Days after the Mumbai attacks, the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism claimed that a chemical, biological or nuclear terrorist attack is likely before the end of 2013. "Our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing," it concluded.

People naturally tend to mentally bury such risk. Wrote T.S. Eliot: "It is hard for those who live near a Police Station/To believe in the triumph of violence."

Part of the appearance of security is rooted in seven years without additional terrorist attacks in America-itself a triumph against violence. It is difficult for a leader to take credit for a negative achievement-for the absence of failure. But here credit is due.

Most of the methods employed in this effort have been effective, congressionally approved and broadly noncontroversial-fighting money laundering, intercepting terrorist communications, tightening up the border. These measures were muscular but hardly as muscular as other wartime precedents: Abraham Lincoln confiscating newspapers and putting editors in jail, Franklin Roosevelt interning 120,000 people of Japanese descent.

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