After the arrest of 24 men and women in the plot to blow up 10 airliners on flights from the British Isles to the United States, we may be fortunate that the terror they envisioned was so apocalyptic.
With so many implicated, even more being pursued in Britain and Pakistan, the odds of a leak were high. Had the plot involved a single plane or two, the number of terrorists needed might have been fewer than a dozen. And the chances of "success" would have risen geometrically. Which suggests this may have been the "big one."
This may have been Act II, a planned massacre so shockingly costly in human life as to suspend air travel between America and Europe. If all 10 targeted planes had been blown out of the sky, the death toll could have been higher than the 3,000 on 9-11.
This may explain why there has been no al-Qaida attack here in five years. Al-Qaida may have wanted the next act of terror to be so horrendous as to show the world its ability to wreak 9-11 death and destruction had not been diminished by the Bush-Blair War on Terror.
We are still in the area of surmise. But given the enormity of the plot, the timing, on or near the fifth anniversary of 9-11, and the targets, America and Britain, this appears a plot a with political motive.
But besides the horror such an atrocity would engender and the martyrdom some of them sought, what was their goal?
It is known that the arrested include middle-class men and women, second-generation Pakistanis. That South Asian Muslims might be alienated from secular Britain is understandable, but to the extent that they would slaughter thousands and commit suicide because of it is not. There has to be something more behind this.
Had the plot succeeded, and five, seven or nine planes been blown up over the Atlantic, the initial U.S.-British reaction might have been to rally behind the president and prime minister. But then the questions would have begun.
"Who failed us?" "Who was asleep?" "Who told us we were safe?" "Who said we were winning the War on Terror?" "What are we doing in a civil war in Iraq when Americans are being slaughtered by the thousands over the Atlantic?" Americans would have been battling over these issues until Election Day.
Had thousands perished, the credibility of the U.S. and British governments would have been shattered. Critics would have mocked Bush-Blair claims to have made us safer. The FBI, CIA and Homeland Security would have come under savage attack. Bush would have been charged with failure to implement the recommendations of the 9-11 commission. Blair would have been ousted.
Recall. Three days after the Madrid bombing, the conservative Spanish government, allied to Bush and Blair, was voted out of office. And Spain withdrew its troops from Iraq.
Had the Atlantic bomb plot succeeded, Republicans would be attacking Democrats for their naivete in nominating an antiwar wimp like Ned Lamont. The day the plot was exposed, Joe Lieberman tore into Lamont, saying that leaving Iraq "will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. ... It will strengthen them, and they will strike again."
Democrats are already saying Bush's war on Iraq was a bloody, costly, unnecessary diversion of America's attention and resources away from the real threat: Islamic terrorism.
Had the plot not been aborted, the War Party -- Newt and the neocons -- would have seized on the slaughter over the Atlantic to stampede America into a new war on Iran, as they seized on 9-11 to stampede us into the war on Iraq.
Already we are hearing that Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, North Korea and al-Qaida are all part of a gigantic Axis of Evil -- with which we are engaged in "World War III" in Newt's phrase, "World War IV" in the phrase of ex-CIA Director James Woolsey -- and, "Let's get it over with!"
Most of what we are hearing is propaganda. Everyone is using the Atlantic bomb plot as an excuse to mount his or her hobbyhorse and ride, ride, ride. What we need to know is the truth.
Was the Atlantic bomb plot merely inspired by 9-11, or actually supported or directed by al-Qaida? Was any nation-state involved? What caused second-generation Pakistani Brits to consider a diabolical mass murder? What was their motivation besides a massacre? What did they hope to achieve beyond the killing?
Was this mindless terror of the Baader-Meinhoff variety, or purposeful terror, like the ANC or FLN, to get us out of the Middle East, or perhaps to draw us into yet another war in the Middle East?
We need truth. We need answers. We are getting propaganda.