Two weeks ago, much hoopla was made over six Muslims arrested for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack against Fort Dix in New Jersey. According to U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, the six men intended "to create carnage at Fort Dix," and "This is a new brand of terrorism where a small cell of people can bring enormous devastation." FBI Special Agent Jody Weis claimed that "we dodged a bullet." Such rhetoric would have one believe that the Fort Dix Six had hatched a plan to blow up the installation or perhaps use dreaded WMDs, such as chemical or biological weapons.
The plot was for the six men to attack Fort Dix using automatic weapons. If the Fort Dix Six are representative of the terrorist threat in America, we should be so fortunate. Yes, it is a good thing that these men were caught before they could kill anyone. But their alleged plot was amateurish at best. Of all the potential targets to attack, a U.S. military installation that has a security perimeter manned by trained and armed personnel is the worst possible choice. Why pick a defended target that can shoot back at you? (Fort Dix is a training base for the U.S. Army, which means an even greater likelihood that soldiers on the base will be armed or have relatively easy access to firearms. With roughly 3,000 soldiers on the base and six would-be attackers, you do the math.) If their intention was to kill as many people as possible with rampant gunfire, a better choice would have been a shopping mall or a school (the massacre at Virginia Tech is tragic evidence of what a lone gunman can do).
If, on a scale of 1 to 10, the Sept. 11 attacks were a 10+, then the Fort Dix plot barely registers a one. In other words, it’s on par with the group in Miami that fantasized about bringing down the Sears Tower in Chicago, or Iyman Faris wanting to cut the suspension cables on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Equally ludicrous is Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that the Fort Dix Six is a reason the United States needs to stay in Iraq. When asked at the May 15 Republican presidential debate in South Carolina about an open-ended commitment to Iraq, the former Big Apple mayor responded that a timetable for retreat was "highly irresponsible" because "these people do want to follow us here and they have followed us here. Fort Dix happened a week ago." Yet none other than Fox News had reported the previous week that the "three brothers charged in the alleged Fort Dix terror plot have been living illegally in the U.S. for more than 23 years." And only one was of Middle Eastern descent: "Four of the arrested men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Jordan, and one came from Turkey, authorities said. Three were in the United States illegally; two had green cards allowing them to stay in this country permanently; and the sixth is a U.S. citizen." The reality is that all of the Fort Dix Six had been in America well before the Iraq War.
(Further proof of Giuliani’s cluelessness came during the debate when he said, "That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th." The statement Giuliani was referring to was by Rep. Ron Paul: "Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve been in the Middle East." To begin, Paul never said that we invited that 9/11 attacks. But more importantly, Giuliani has obviously never heard of the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, who asserts, "The fundamental flaw in our thinking about bin Laden is that ‘Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do.’ Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It’s American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaeda, not American culture and society." That Giuliani is living in the same fantasy world as President Bush was evident in his post-debate interview with Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes when he defended his attack on Paul: "Look, it’s real simple what happened. These people came here and killed us because of our freedom of religion, because of our freedom for women, because they hate us.")
That is not to say that the alleged plot to attack Fort Dix should be taken lightly. First, the fact that the would-be plotters had been living in the United States for many years and that one of them was a U.S. citizen highlights the potential problem of homegrown terrorists and radicalization of American Muslims. Given that three of the group entered the United States more than 23 years ago when they were all less than 6 years old, Giuliani’s argument that "these people came here and killed us because of our freedom of religion, because of our freedom for women, because they hate us" hardly holds water. So we must look beyond platitudes to find motives for Muslims to become terrorists, including anger over the Iraq war and U.S. foreign policy (exactly what Rep. Paul said in the May 15 Republican presidential debate in South Carolina).
Second, the three Dukas brothers were ethnic Albanians. Because Osama bin Laden is Saudi and the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis and Egyptians, we tend to equate al-Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorists with being Middle Eastern or Arab. But Muslims from the Balkans are anything but Arab (ditto for Muslims from Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world). So we have to ask ourselves whether the Fort Dix Six might be an example of blowback for U.S. interventionist policy in the Balkans during the Clinton administration.
And there is this important lesson to be learned: the Fort Dix Six were thwarted by good old-fashioned police work. In other words, the so-called war on terrorism is waged and won less by the military and more by law enforcement despite President Bush’s assertion otherwise:
"I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime, a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted and tried and convicted, and sent to prison. But the matter was not settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other nations, and drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got."
Indeed, it is worth noting that the 14 most high-value terrorists now residing at Gitmo were all captured in law enforcement and intelligence operations not military operations.