Doesn’t Add Up

Over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg and others are wondering about something that has been puzzling me too: if Faisal Shahzad was trained by jihadis in Pakistan, why did he make such a crappy bomb? I mean, the guy even had an engineering degree, for crying out loud. He used the wrong kind of fertilizer, propane tanks with the valves closed, little firecrackers to set it off, and had a couple of clocks wired up to nothing. A resourceful six-year-old could have made a better bomb. What gives?


  1. JK says

    I hope no six year olds who happen across this post get ‘down in the chops’ at being so viciously included in such a comparison.

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Well, they’ll get over it.

    But it’s strange, right? What do you make of it?

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  3. And why is he singing like a canary?

    Maybe to provoke what would be perceived as an overreaction to something that almost happened?

    But the Islamists aren’t usually that subtle.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    It’s all very strange, Jeffery. Something’s not right.

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  5. JK says

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    Nothing strange at all here. Malevolence doesn’t guarantee competence. They’re unrelated.

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    I agree, Pete. But this guy should have been competent, with an engineering degree and Taliban training. That’s what I can’t figure out.

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    I think there is a mindset which views terrorists as ruthlessly efficient, when they may be closer to the gang which couldn’t shoot straight. Even 9/11, for all the effect it wrought (bonus points for knowing the present tense of “wrought”), was nineteen guys with box-cutters. John Gotti could have done so much better, and the perpetrators would have been much better dressed. Ted Kaczinski’s bombs are a lot better than the crude stuff that goes off in suicide vests and SUV’s. Compare Timothy McVeigh with Shahzad. Makes you proud to be an American.

    Hannah Arendt wrote that if you have one hundred men who are willing to die, you can change the world. It’s the asymmetry of power which gives terrorists their power (if that is the right word), not any mastery of technology or complex operations.

    I certainly wouldn’t minimize the subway bombings and other mayhem which Al Qaeda has caused since 9/11, but instead of the ever-growing menace which many people predicted, what we have now is Al Qaeda lite. Their numbers are smaller, their influence in the Muslim world has diminished, and their leaders get picked off by predator drones. They had an opportunity to seize on the many gifts which George Bush bestowed upon them to become a growing and robust force, but their political leadership seems feckless too. (Now if they hired a right-thinking American like Karl Rove or James Carville … ) So I don’t think it’s surprising that Shahzad turned out to be like one of those cartoon characters who fires a gun and out comes a streamer which says “Bang!” They’re not your father’s terrorists.

    Posted May 8, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  9. Chris G says

    Delusion and depression clouded his thinking.

    Posted May 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  10. JK says

    Peter, that bomb was (oh I hate to use this word) “engineered” to (even this word) “fail.” This is not to imply the components didn’t have lethal capacity, indeed the two primary gases could easily have been configured to be just that. Lethal.

    So “efficiency” as I take you to mean it has no part in the equation. The problem in this case is “What was Shazad’s rationale?” Any attempt to equate McVeigh’s skills with this guy falls on it’s face. McVeigh intended to kill, Shazad did not.

    That’s what’s puzzling. I don’t buy into the proposition Shazad “chickened out.”

    The “crude stuff” you mention, while perhaps not as efficient as say C-4 is designed and intended primarily for small area blast effect and therefore effective – but Shazad clearly was not wearing a suicide vest. I will in part, agree with you on asymmetry but only insofar as ‘complex operations’ is extremely limited in scope. While we didn’t see complex operations in Iraq, we most certainly see them in Afghanistan. However there is a justifiable argument to be made as to whether the Taliban engaged cohesively in maneuver warfare should be classified in the strict sense as terrorists. But then we weren’t engaging Taliban in Iraq.

    Al Qaeda lite? Perhaps. Certainly their ranks seem to be appreciably diminished in the Af/Pak theater, but they do have the annoying habit of popping up in increasing numbers in places like Somalia and Yemen. But, if Shazad is to be believed, the Times Square Whatever was strictly a Taliban initiated event.

    “Not your father’s terrorists?” It surprises me that anyone would even bother with such an observation. Of course they’re not. The events in Mumbai should have dissuaded even the most Pollyannish of such a notion.

    Posted May 8, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  11. The present tense of that archaic past participle “wrought” is “work.” Thus, wrought iron, for example, is iron that has been ‘worked.’

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted May 8, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  12. the one eyed man says


    Posted May 8, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  13. JK says

    Weak Peter.


    Posted May 9, 2010 at 1:39 am | Permalink
  14. “The past tense and past participle of wreak is wreaked, not wrought, which is an alternative past tense and past participle of work.” – Free Dictionary: wreak

    Posted May 9, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    “The word wrought is sometimes assumed to be the past tense of wreak, as the phrases wreak havoc and wrought havoc are both commonly used. In fact, wrought havoc is not as common as wreaked havoc. Whether wrought is considered as the past tense of wreak or of work, wrought havoc has essentially the same meaning. Etymologically, however, wrought is only the past tense of work.”

    Etymologically speaking, you are correct. As far as common usage, we are both correct. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

    Posted May 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink
  16. All you will have wrought by that insistence is to wreak semantic havoc.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted May 9, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

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