Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead. Dzhokhar, his 19-year-old brother, has a throat wound and is in serious condition at a Boston hospital. Neither of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings ever publicly said why he might have wanted to set off explosives that killed three people and injured more than 170 others.
But we do know this: The Tsarnaev brothers are Muslims — and that Russia asked the FBI to look into whether Tamerlan had become a follower of radical Islam. And those facts have been enough to revive speculation over whether the White House is being tough enough on Islamic terrorists.
Former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey complains in The Wall Street Journal about President Obama being too cautious to state what Mukasey finds obvious. He writes: "There is … cause for concern in the president's reluctance, soon after the Boston bombing, even to use the "t" word — terrorism — and in his vague musing on Friday about some unspecified agenda of the perpetrators, when by then there was no mystery: The agenda was jihad."
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The editors of the National Review are similarly disappointed in what they see as pussyfooting around the issue of terrorism:
In this view, as Fox News' Chris Wallace told Politico, "the 'War on Terror' is not over."
Ed Kilgore of the Washington Monthly has another term for it: "A grand revival of the post-9/11 politics of fear."
These are not just rhetorical games. There are real consequences to the narrative that emerges in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. Before the White House announced that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would be tried as a civilian in federal court, several senators were pushing for him to be designated as an enemy combatant to be tried by a military commission. Labels matter.
That's why we should be cautious about any hawkishness that emerges from this tragedy, says The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf. Such posturing could lead us to the same place that we went after 9/11 — namely, Iraq. "In the wake of the Boston Marathon, the War on Terror hawks are speaking out with characteristic bluster," Friedersdorf writes. "Conservatives won't succeed in offering America anything better until the geopolitical thinkers who got so much wrong during the Bush years learn some humility — or are no longer treated, within their movement, as 'experts' who never got huge questions wrong."
The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky sees the "War on Terror" talk as both calculated and dangerous:
Clearly, America is going to once again be talking about Islam, terrorism, and what we're willing to do to to prevent violent attacks on U.S. soil. It's fitting that the George W. Bush presidential library is opening this week because, at least judging from the commentariat, it's starting to look a little bit like the fall of 2001.
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