May 9, 2007

The line between terrorism and a plain old attack

The big news today is that an attack on a U.S. Army base was caught before it happened. But it was funny to see how various media outlets characterized the planned attack. FOXNews had no problem characterizing the bust as averting a terrorist attack, while the New York Times was more measured in its assessment, avoiding the t-word. Here is the word on the specifics of what the would be attackers wanted to do:

The six men planned to purchase rocket-propelled grenade launchers then use them to fire at Humvees at Fort Dix and “light the whole place up,” Chris Christie, the United States attorney in New Jersey, said today. The men had apparently looked at a number of military installations in the Northeast but decided on Fort Dix because they thought it would allow them to kill the greatest number of soldiers and to make a clean escape, officials said.
So, is an attack on a Fort that aims to kill the most number of soldiers possible an act of terrorism? It doesn't really seem like it to me. For one, the attack wasn't aimed at civilians. Second, had the attacks actually gone off (which had they, they probably would have failed miserably, I mean, its an Army fort), I doubt many would have been all that terrorized. I've never found myself on an Army base, so I'd have little reason to continue going about my everyday business. I'm sure people on Army bases might be rattled, but those people are trained to be rattled, isn't that what basic training is all about?But regardless of this logic against it, the U.S. Attorney that announced the planned attacks today, had no problem playing up the attacks. Saying:
"Terrorist attacks are not always going to be on the grand scale of September 11th,” Mr. Christie said. “But keep in mind that terrorist attacks are about creating terror, and an attack on an American military institution in our country clearly would have created the type of terror that people like these who believe in Jihad want to perpetrate on American citizens."
It kind of seems like this John Ashcroft playing up the capture of the "dirty bomber" all over again.Also note, that this sort of stuff is why we won't see anything like James Fallows argued for last year.