"The intelligence community believes that terrorists will attempt multiple attacks against U.S. and coalition targets worldwide in the event of a U.S.-led military campaign against Saddam Hussein."
-- Former Sec. of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, in March 2003
"Some people...seem to cling to the discredited theory that the recent attacks in London...are in retaliation for the war in Iraq. That is nonsense."
-- Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking in Los Angeles last week
How's that for rich: Rumstud lecturing the world about discredited theories.
Who exactly is "clinging" to the discredited theory of a London-Iraq link? The usual gang of Saddam Fan Clubbers and terrorist fellow travelers: the American and British intelligence establishments, the whack-jobs on the editorial boards of four British dailies, a majority of the British public, and batty UK think tanks like the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House and the Economic and Social Research Council.
Bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri is also clinging to this discredited theory, just as he and all those Spaniards still cling to the theory of a Madrid-Iraq link. In a video message broadcast last Thursday, al-Zawahiri lectured, "To the British, I am telling you that Blair brought you destruction in the middle of London." But what would he know?
If the furious denials by American and British officials sound a strange note, it's not just because these same administrations warned us in March 2003 to prepare for reprisal attacks. It's because all their grand rhetoric about sacrifice and risk and hard choices so suddenly and conspicuously evaporated into the London fog. If the removal of Saddam Hussein is worth the lives and limbs of 10,000 coalition soldiers, if it is worth upwards of 100,000 Iraqi civilian dead, then surely it's worth the lives of a few dozen British commuters. Why not just claim the sacrifice, and justify it like all the others?
In denying that the 7/7 bombings had anything to do with Iraq, Rumsfeld et. al. are counting not only on our inability to connect two large dots, but on our collective amnesia as well. Who can forget the fear of March 2003, when retaliatory attacks were the talk of the town? In this newspaper's archives alone, you can find several articles from the period wrestling with the subject. Michelangelo Signorile listened to Tom Ridge's warnings and wondered in outrage if Bush thought New Yorkers were expendable. Ben Smith compared the ways Washingtonians and New Yorkers were handling terror-anxiety on the eve of war.
In scrambling to deny a connection between Iraq and the London attacks, the Blair government has lost its Bond cool, even showing early signs of the kind of dementia usually associated with this side of the pond. In a particularly striking instance of grandpa forgetting why he's standing in front of the refrigerator, British foreign secretary Jack Straw actually pointed to the recent bombings in Turkey as proof that Iraq is a red herring.
"The terrorists have struck across the world, in countries... which had nothing whatever to do with the war in Iraq. They struck this weekend in Turkey," said Straw last month.
If a few subway bombs have brought the British Foreign Office down to this kind of analysis, we're in more trouble than we thought. The bombings in Turkey, as Straw should know, were not Islamist suicide attacks. As was widely reported, they were the work of radical Turkish Kurds (a splinter group from the secular PKK) seeking an amnesty agreement as part of their long-running secessionist war with Ankara, a dormant conflict that was itself aggravated by the war in Iraq.
But Straw and his colleagues are more isolated than their arrogance would indicate. Mostly it was reality-based voices that arose from London's July wreckage, including that of the city's popular mayor, Ken Livingstone, who rejected 10 Downing Street's abdication of all responsibility. With most of the city at his back, he argued that careful consideration of the effect British foreign policy has on domestic extremism must play a role in any serious plan to mitigate terrorism. The other prong in Livingstone's anti-terror strategy is maintaining a high level of public trust in the police, particularly in Muslim communities, where cooperation is crucial for intelligence gathering.
"The London bombings demand clear thinking, not rhetoric," wrote Livingstone last Thursday in the Guardian. "People's lives depend on the decisions made. These must be for every community to aid the police in preventing attacks; to treat Britain's Muslim community with respect, both because it is right and to shrink the pools terrorists operate in; and for Britain to withdraw from Iraq."
Livingstone and the majority of Britons who agree with him aren't naifs. They don't think withdrawal from Iraq is a cure-all, but rather a cure-some. It's been obvious from the start that the invasion and subsequent occupation was fueling extremism and creating suicide-bombers where there weren't (m)any, both in Iraq and in the capitals of western Europe. The London and Madrid bombings simply illustrated this with blood.
The interplay between foreign occupation and suicide terror is explored in a new book by University of Chicago professor Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House). It's a book Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani and George Elmer Pataki might want to read before making any more starry-eyed speeches in praise of the president's leadership in the war on terror. Local pols who never tire of reminding us that NYC is in the cross-hairs should know something about how those cross-hairs got there. Pape's study is a good place to start.
After compiling and analyzing the world's only comprehensive database of suicide bombings between 1980 and 2004, Pape found that millennial Islamic fundamentalism is the driving force behind only a small fraction of suicide terrorist attacks. Overwhelmingly, the prime motivator is "a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland."
"From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank," finds Pape, "every major suicide-terrorist campaign -- over 95 percent of all incidents -- has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw. Two-thirds of all suicide terrorists are from the countries where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops."
Suicide terrorism is a "demand-driven phenomenon," Pape elaborates in a recent interview. "It is driven by the presence of foreign forces...The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and given it a new lease on life."
If Islamic fundamentalism and blind hatred of liberal western societies were the pivotal factors, Pape argues, we would be seeing waves of Al Qaeda suicide terrorists coming out of Iran. But we aren't. Ditto Sudan. Based on his research, Pape agrees with the growing number of those who claim that lowering our profile in the Middle East would immediately and drastically reduce the related threats of suicide- and mega-terrorism against the U.S. and its allies. This, incidentally, is exactly what Al Qaeda has been saying clearly and repeatedly for more than a decade, in appeals beamed straight into our living rooms. We are free to ignore all of these messages, of course, and go on pretending our actions have no bearing on their actions. But that's worse than counterproductive -- it's cowardly. If we're going to fight this war on terror like fools, let's at least do it honestly, and lose like we really mean it.