We are in the midst of the least-suspenseful investigation ever launched by American law enforcement. Hundreds of investigators are seeking leads around the world to discover the motive of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
This probe is considered a foray into the unknown, and perhaps the unknowable. "Do you have any clearer idea," the host of "Face the Nation," Bob Schieffer, asked Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, "of what the motive of these two young men was?" Patrick replied, "Not yet, Bob, and it's hard for me and for many of us to imagine what could motivate people to harm innocent men, women and children in the way that these two fellows did."
Yes, what could ever possess a nice chap who was posting jihadist videos on YouTube to go wrong? How could the older brother Tamerlan, suspected by the Russian government of radicalism and interviewed by the FBI at Moscow's urging, get mixed up in a terror plot? Who would have thought that Tamerlan, known for haranguing people at the local mosque for their insufficient zeal, might lead his brother on a violent rampage? When has it happened before that young Muslim men beholden to an extreme ideology have visited mayhem and murder on innocents?
The investigation into the Boston bombers won't uncover some convoluted motive like in a hard-boiled detective novel when it turns out that whoever hired Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer is actually in on the crime. It won't have surprising twists like in an Agatha Christie story. It will be wholly predictable. The motive will begin and end with radical Islam and hatred of America. Everything else will be details.
This shouldn't be hard to grasp. There is a unifying characteristic in dozens of foiled terror plots in this country since Sept. 11. Whether it was the plots to blow up subway stations, or train tunnels, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or facilities at JFK Airport, or Times Square, or the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City; the plots to blow up shopping malls in Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago; the plots against Jewish targets in New York and Chicago; the plots against military facilities in California, Washington, Maryland and New Jersey they were all planned by young, radical Muslim men.
It is all too easy, pace Gov. Patrick, to imagine why the Tsarnaev brothers killed and maimed innocents. It is the same template behind attacks on our shores since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. All that makes their act different is that it succeeded, when so many others after Sept. 11 with the exception of the Fort Hood and Little Rock recruiting-station shootings failed.
Yet we don't permit ourselves to grasp the obvious. At first, liberal commentators speculated that a right-winger might have been the perpetrator in Boston and picked April 15, Tax Day, presumably to make a point about the inadvisability of high marginal income-tax rates. Now, they still minimize the role of radical Islam and wonder how the Tsarnaev boys could have done such a thing.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly dispelled all sense of mystery about the motive of the Boston bombing when he said that he and every professional in the field believes the Boston attack was al-Qaida-inspired. Then again, charged with protecting the city that is highest on the terrorist target list, Kelly doesn't have the luxury of indulging puerile delusions. It is part of his job description to be a hardheaded adult. New York City has earned the ire of the press and civil libertarians for focusing investigative resources on monitoring the Muslim community.
The chances are that we will learn nothing important from Boston about the enduring terrorist threat against our country. When the next attack comes, and it will, we will again scratch our heads and wonder who could do such a thing, and why?
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)