The last question, about the relationship between this attack and the Islamic State’s losses in Syria, is more perplexing. I harp on Saipov’s apparent stupidity for one reason: As long as the Islamic State’s attackers are idiots like Saipov, our societies can probably handle them. (New York is not freaking out: I see a child dressed as an undead Derek Jeter, fearlessly demanding sugar from strangers on Fifth Avenue right now.) 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 the 2015 Bataclan killers in Paris had, or by patient planning, like 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 the Islamic State loses territory, the greatest danger remains the possibility that some of the battle-hardened fighters will return home, raising the average IQ of the attackers, and making possible attacks many times more deadly than this one.