When I was a planner at U.S. European Command I was part of a group that looked at counter-terrorism planning. One of the concerns we were addressing was the “lone wolf” attacker. That was what we called an inspired individual who took it upon himself to, on his own, stage a terrorist attack. I took the counter-intuitive position that the lone-wolf attacker was not a problem; instead he was an indicator of success.
Terrorism is not how the strong attack their enemies. Coordinated terrorist attacks originating in the Middle East are themselves a counter-intuitive indicator of success. That is because the American military (and its Western Allies) are far too strong to attack symetrically. Al Qaeda never could hope to attack the United States militarily. They never have had the resources to directly confront America with missiles and tanks. So they have had to resort to organized terrorist attacks.
Lone wolf attacks like the ones perpetrated against Canada twice in the last two days are indicators that now even organized terrorist attacks often are beyond the abilities of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Since al Qaeda’s losses suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, they rarely have been able even to conduct organized terrorist attacks. As horrible as these lone wolf types of attacks are, they amount to little more than murders, not wholesale attacks against the West.
And that was my point to the other planners at EUCOM: lone wolf attacks don’t need a military solution. When the enemy’s attacks amount to a few (obviously very tragic) murders that the police can handle, a military response unnecessarily expends more of our resources while it gives our enemies more credit than they deserve.