Thursday, July 07, 2005

The London Bombings: Some Early Thoughts

The news from London this morning is not welcome. I grieve with the British people over this senseless loss of life.

At the same time that I grieve, I condemn terrorism. As I sit and write this blog entry, it is still not known who is responsible for the bombings that have thus far taken dozens of lives and brought the city’s transport system to a standstill. Given that the bombings (of which there appear to have been four) were timed, most everyone suspects Al-Qaeda. That is all the more the case given the similarities with the tragic bombings of public transport in Madrid of last year. If it is indeed behind the bombings, just what does Al-Qaeda think it will accomplish by this act?

Among other things, there appear to be two constants in Al-Qaeda’s strategic planning: 1) a self-assured arrogance that they are wiser than their “western enemies” and 2) a propensity to misunderstand their enemies. The latter of course belies the former. The London bombings are a near perfect demonstration of both. Given that the Madrid bombings led to the Spanish withdrawal from Iraq, the most obvious goal of the London bombings would appear to be to convince the British government to mimic the Spanish response. Indeed, Al-Qaeda’s strategy is all too obvious in this instance: to strengthen the movement against involvement in the war in Iraq to such a degree that public pressure forces the British government to withdraw its sizeable contingent from that country. In my view, the likelihood of that happening is virtually nil. My assessment hinges on the simple fact that such a strategic calculation depends on public reaction and the British public is not likely to react as the Spanish public did.

There are several reasons why I believe they will not. First, the British public is quite aware of Al-Qaeda’s strategy in this instance. Concerns were voiced throughout Europe when the Spanish government declared that it condemned terrorism at the same time that it was withdrawing from Iraq. The country had essentially given in to Al-Qaeda’s major demand and in so doing was encouraging terrorism elsewhere in Europe. Secondly, the British public is likely to be offended that it is being equated in the minds of Al-Qaeda strategists with Spaniards. The British have dealt with IRA-sponsored terrorism for decades and view themselves historically as a good deal tougher than the south of Europe. Thirdly, the opposition to British involvement in Iraq most certainly knows that Al-Qaeda is calculating that these acts of violence are intended to strengthen the anti-war movement. This is not the kind of support that it wants or needs, nor is it the kind of support that it is likely to attempt to capitalize upon. To do so would paint it as capitulating to terrorists, or worse, working to achieve their goals. Fourth, and this may be the most important miscalculation of all, there is no war in Iraq, except Al-Qaeda’s war to seize control of the country. The war has long since been over. What is left is an attempt to rebuild the country against the opposition of die-hard Saddam loyalists and terrorists. The fact that the vast majority of acts of violence are against Iraqis, not coalition forces, speaks to this. This is no longer about the rightness or wrongness of the decision to invade Iraq. What Al-Qaeda is demanding is that Britain, and the international community, surrender Iraq to oppression and tyranny.

I believe that the London bombings will be seen as a blunder in Al-Qaeda’s war against the west. Instead of strengthening the anti-war movement and weakening the British government’s resolve, in the end it will have weakened the former and strengthened the latter. Neither the leadership of the Labor Party nor the Conservatives is currently amenable to withdrawing from Iraq. In the wake of this incident, which has further blurred the distinction between Iraq and the “war against terrorism,” it is difficult to see that changing. Look to Tony Blair’s speeches in the coming day. Unlike the Spanish government of its day, he will address this incident head-on to mobilize the public behind his resolve to see Iraq and the struggle against terror through to the end.

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