Jules Witcover

Some people in politics seem unable to accept good news. Take, for example, how House Minority Leader John Boehner greeted the arrest of the man accused of the Times Square car bombing plot.

After Faisal Shahzad had been seized only 53 hours after the plot was thwarted, Boehner observed: "We have been lucky, but luck is not an effective strategy for fighting terrorism." He added that the Obama administration "continues to operate without a real, comprehensive plan to confront and defeat the terrorist threat."

It's certainly true that it was good fortune that the accused man stupidly left one of two vehicle identification numbers readable on the SUV he bought with cash, along with his house key for the clue-laden house he had abandoned in Connecticut. These mistakes facilitated identifying, tracing and ultimately nabbing him.

But it took swift and effective police work by local and federal agencies after an alert street vendor in the Times Square area spotted the smoking SUV. It can be quibbled that Shahzad should have been arrested before he got on the plane, but the fact is, the sleuths got their man.

As frightening as such episodes are in a nation that still must function under the terrorist threat nearly nine years after the 9/11 attacks, they are themselves a recognition of the general American success in fighting it since then.

These simpler attempts strongly indicate that the ability of al-Qaida, has been significantly degraded by the military and counterintelligence efforts carried out through the Bush administration and continued under President Obama.

So far at least, terrorism against the United States has been reduced mostly to small-bore plots that can be combated with efforts that are much more police work than major military operations. While it remains true in a general sense that, as Boehner has said, we are still "a nation at war," that war is being conducted on a more realistic basis than it was in the first years after 9/11.

In declaring himself a "wartime president," George W. Bush not only claimed expanded executive power but pointedly used the threat of another 9/11 attack to sustain political support at home. He did so effectively while never truly mobilizing the home front for war. There was never any sort of manpower mobilization, food or other rationing that put the nation as a whole on a war footing, as in World War II.

This policy -- of repeatedly declaring the nation to be at war while asking little sacrifice from the American public except for members of the military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families at home -- was a key factor in Bush's reelection in 2004.

By 2006, however, the political magic of the "wartime presidency" began to wear off, contributing to the Republican loss of Congress. And in 2008, with Bush not on the ballot and the war in Iraq highly unpopular with the American public, his party lost the White House as well.

All this is not to say that the fight against terrorism is no longer of concern to Americans at home. It clearly remains a cause for continuing worry, with remembrance of the crumbling twin towers of the World Trade Center forever etched in the minds of millions who via television saw them go down.

But as the "war on terror" has segued from the mass attack of 9/11 masterminded and carried out by al-Qaida to individually launched or perpetrated episodes, it now requires more of the police response seen in the Times Square attempt.

While such efforts obviously have the potential to do major damage to American life and property, so far at least they appear to have conditioned Americans to recognize them as part of living in the age of politics by terror and threat of terror.

Boehner's dismissal of the arrest of the suspected Times Square bomber as "lucky" was not only a backhanded slap at the efficient police work involved. It was also a gratuitous rap at the Democratic administration. In saying that it showed Obama still has no "real, comprehensive plan" to fight terrorism, Boehner revealed his own frustration in no longer having "the war on terror" as a political ally.