Analysis Just when we all got comfortable with the idea of Islamofascists bringing down the curtain on humanity's dominion over the Earth, those wacky North Koreans come along and put everyone's pet Apocalyptic theories into disarray. And boy, is it getting complicated: we've got people trying to blow up airplanes with KY jelly and Gatorade; we've got Iran doing the nuke walk and thumbing its nose at us; meanwhile, we're knee-deep in sexual predators, insurgents, rogue states, terrorists, and whack-job wannabes. It's difficult to know who we're supposed to be terrified of any more.
But one thing is certain: the US and UK governments consider it our patriotic duty to be terrified of someone. Whole security and surveillance industries of global dimensions are being spawned and supported by government money, and people are getting killed in putatively counterterrorist wars, so it's essential that public fear be sustained. We just lack consistency on who the Diablo du jour should be.
It wasn't so long ago that Saddam Hussein was the scariest monster on the planet. A lot of people got killed, and many more got maimed, disfigured, or dispossessed in teaching us that he was in fact a garden-variety buffoon surrounded by a crude security apparatus which a fair number of clever people found profitable to maintain. His trial, which ought to bring what psychobabblers call "closure" is an unruly low comedy in the Benny Hill mold, and consequently there appears to be no catharsis in the offing, or even on the distant horizon. It seems, alas, that little cathartic potential arises from buffoons in the dock.
Naturally, Osama bin Laden had been a fabulous universal monster, and could have provided rich stores of fear energy for governments to feed on, until, unfortunately, he became an official guest of the government of Pakistan. This was a necessary accommodation to stop the regular assassination attempts against President Pervez Musharraf, and it has worked well in that capacity; but it has also meant that bin Laden must be scratched from the official monster registry.
The Bush administration had obviously lit on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the most convenient UBL/Saddam replacement, being situated so near the US/UK foundry of world democracy centered in Iraq; and for a time it seemed that allowing the moderate former President Mohammad Khatami - with whom the West could have worked productively, if slowly - to founder from neglect had not been such a great folly after all. Here was a scary monster just where the administration wanted him. Iranian nukes and diplomatic intransigence could have relieved the US/UK fear machine of the sad duty to round up thought criminals and inept wannabes, such as the Heathrow crew, and trumpet them as great victories in the war on terror.