The recent terrorist attack in Manhattan could easily have been far deadlier, notes Graeme Wood, had the perpetrator followed the guidelines Islamic State (IS) distributed for vehicular rammings. But, Wood writes, it would be unwise to expect other jihadists to be so ineffective:
[A]s long as Islamic State’s attackers are idiots like Sayfullo Saipov, our societies can probably handle them. . . . The Idiots’ Crusade is a manageable problem.
Much less tolerable would be a campaign of competent terror—the kind of mayhem enabled by training, like that of the 2015 Bataclan killers in Paris, or by patient planning, like that done by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas. There is not much to be done about the idiots, but their idiocy provides a natural limit to the damage they can do. As Islamic State loses territory, the greatest danger remains the prospect that some of the battle-hardened fighters will return home, raising the average IQ of attackers, and making possible attacks that would be many times deadlier than this one.
America’s strategy in Syria is to demolish Islamic State while minimizing the possibility that one of the smart terrorists will slip away. Eight people are dead, tragically, in lower Manhattan. That the number is not higher is a reminder of how important it is that that strategy be pursued with undiminished vigor.