Are shoe bombers and car bombers facts of American life now? Sadly, they probably are, just as school shootings, gang violence and the occasional rampage by a knife-wielding mental patient at Target are lamentable features of contemporary society. Citizen vigilance and the incompetence of would-be bombers have spared American lives on a couple of occasions now, most recently in Times Square. Nimble police work and improved coordination among law enforcement agencies have saved untold more. Those successes are a reminder of what works in combatting violence, whether it is generated on the streets of Los Angeles or in the caves of Afghanistan. They are the appropriate responses of a society in which civil liberties are a source of strength, not weakness, and in which effective law enforcement coexists with respect for privacy and personal freedom.
Britain lived with Irish Republican Army attacks for decades while fighting an urban war over Northern Ireland, just as Israel has faced decades of bloodletting by militants over its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Both countries have struggled to balance policing and democracy. The 9/11 attacks preceded the United States' war in Afghanistan, and it is debatable whether ending U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan would eliminate the threat of terrorism from Islamic fundamentalists who see the West as the enemy. But certainly these attempts will continue while we are engaged in this kind of prolonged war.