President Obama and his administration have been wildly inconsistent on the issue of Islamist terrorism. After running a campaign based on abominating the Bush administration’s approach to counterterrorism, the Obama administration took in hand practically every implement from George W. Bush’s toolbox and a few more of its own design. The hated detention center at Guantanamo Bay remains well stocked with the worst the world has to offer, and the senator who was shocked by the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became the president who signed off on more permanent means of dealing with Islamic militants. But at the same time, he remains a victim of, if we may borrow a phrase from Andrew C. McCarthy, willful blindness on the nature of Islamic supremacists. The attack on soldiers at Fort Hood remains risibly classified as an incidence of “workplace violence” rather than a sneak attack from the Islamic radical Nidal Hassan. When it comes to articulating a national understanding of the threat of Islamic radicalism and a national response to it, Barack Obama is a good deal less articulate than George W. Bush.
Episodes such as this always are studies in contrasts. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer Richard Donohue Jr. was shot while in pursuit of Tsarnaev, and grievously wounded: His heart stopped, and he lost all of the blood in his body. He was saved by 21st-century medicine, wounded in a war with 8th-century savagery. But not every life was saved, nor could they be, which is why it remains imperative that we continue to invest our resources and creativity in the project of stopping these attacks before they happen. The architects of the Boston bombing, like the architects of 9/11, are motivated by a remorseless malice that cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or bought off. But it can be defeated — in Watertown or Waziristan, in whatever shadow it hides, in whatever cave it retreats into.