Nothing to see here but (more) death and destruction

I?m grateful for the thought (and the information and the links) that have gone into recent posts by my co-blogger Edward. I find myself disagreeing with him about only one thing: That the London bombing will (or should) lead to a major change in the way we see things, or to the West?s anti-terror strategy in particular.

I certainly don?t support aspect of Western leaders? anti-terror strategy, although I?ve been a proponent of a global war on terror since 2001. (I think the war in Iraq has turned out pretty disastrously, for instance.) So yes, I think something should change. I?m just not sure what the London bombings have to do with it.

This was expected. We knew something like it would probably happen (again) at some point, in someplace we know very well, like a big city in Europe or America. We have a general idea of who did it and we basically know why they did it. Sadly, something similar will likely happen again in the future, hopefully on not too grand a scale. People are sad, angry and revolted, but nobody is terribly surprised. So is there anything to learn from the London bombings that we should not have already learned? Does the event itself have anything to teach us?

I would say no. Rather, it simply serves to remind us of things we already know, or things we already think we know. Whatever change in strategy is needed was needed already, and should have happened regardless of how many people were killed last week. So I?m a little put off by the potential for over-analysis. (Edward, I must add, is focusing on the facts of this case rather than over-analyzing.)

To put it indelicately: For those not directly affected by what happened in London last week ? and in now way do I mean to belittle the pain of the victims or the horrible nature of the crimes ? I simply don?t think this was an earth-shattering event, by which I mean an event that truly changes the way we view things.

So we can read and write essays about the stoicism of the English, about the brutal nature of the assault on the diverse cosmopolitanism that is London and, most importantly in my view, about the need not to be cowed by fear. But perhaps the most important thing we can do right now is to carry on with our discussions and debates without using the London bombings to bolster our tired arguments. In fact, I think I?ve said a bit too much about it already.

12 thoughts on “Nothing to see here but (more) death and destruction

  1. I simply don’t think this was an earth-shattering event, by which I mean an event that truly changes the way we view things.

    Was the extent of the vulnerability correctly estimated?

    Was it anticipated that the attack would be on infrastructure rather than people?

  2. “That the London bombing will (or should) lead to a major change in the way we see things, or to the West?s anti-terror strategy in particular.”

    Well, it depends Scott I think whether you believe in ‘butterflies’ or not. ie small events which can have big impacts.

    My feeling is that London is important not just for the horror (it is in any event the second most important terrorist incident on EU soil) but rather for the moment in which it arrives. I am, if you like, putting the “straw that broke the camel’s back” argument. I am not suggesting that the reasons why we ‘should’ change tack become any greater (they exist, and continue to exist), but that the number of people changing sides in the argument may now increase in such a way that change becomes inevitable. I can begin to discern a change of emphasis in Blair, I would expect to begin to note this at some stage in the US administration. Lets take a military analogy. There was a before and after to the British withdrawal from Dunkirk. Before that there was one war, fought in one way. After there was another. This can well happen with the WoT IMHO. At the end of the day there are criteria of effectiveness, metrics, whatever. Even though these may not be being discussed in front of the US public I imagine they loom large in the Oval Office or whereever. Like this we are going nowhere. The nets are spreading and extending. And there is a pattern. Radicalism settles itself in one place (take Algeria), gets beaten, and then moves on to another. These radicals use ‘missionary’ activity to focus legitimate grievances in a radical direction. Uzbeckistan could become another example of this (eg). So I don’t think those who are responsible for our security decisions are going to accept the strategy of peddling very fast to stand still, or even go backwards. That is what I think the significance of London will be. In this, as in so many other things, learning by doing applies. What obviously hasn’t worked is taking an extraordinarily big hammer to try to crack a rather small nut.

  3. “I am not suggesting that the reasons why we ‘should’ change tack become any greater”

    Edward, maybe I’ve missed a previous thread but, which changes of strategy are you thinking of?

  4. “which changes of strategy are you thinking of?”

    I’m just off to bed now Gulliver, so this will be brief. I think where Blair is going today, getting at and understanding the roots of terrorism, not deploying tactics that are counterproductive, things like that.

    No more big wars if it can be helped. No more Fallujahs. No more Chechenias. No more simply standing back like we did in Bosnia. It’s all a question of balance. Stronger and at the same time more subtle pressure on the Karimovs of this world (Uzbekistan) so legitimate economic and human rights issues don’t get channeled into radicalism.

    I read today that the RAND Corp. database shows what we all can feel, the impact of the explosion of violence in Iraq: “The 5,362 deaths from terrorism worldwide between March 2004 and March 2005 were almost double the total for the same 12-month period before the 2003 U.S. invasion”.

    There is no “one way”, a lot of more of the same, we aren’t after all doing everything wrong, but a different balance.

    I’ve just seen that the Broad Street entertainment zone of Birmingham is being evacuated. I hope everyone’s going to be OK.

  5. On July 8 we saw a classic false flag attack in London, organized by western secret services to distract attention from the deepening political troubles of Bush and Blair, and perhaps even to create the pretext for war on Iran. Of course, Bush and his poll ratings have been sinking under scandals and rumblings of impeachment. Blair too has been badly hurt by the Downing Street memo.

    The G-8 conference was an ideal, high-profile venue to mobilize the sympathy of world leaders behind their flagging amateur B&B show. Today’s Guy Fawkeses, home-team self-terrorists in the heart of empire, thumbed their noses at mortal fools while they played their favorite base-eleven numerology game, on this 7/7 date—following on Madrid 3/11 and New York 9/11, with its Flights 11 and 77.

    Cui bono. Wall Street closed on an uptick.

    So how can I be so sure? The war-profiteer clique are not all that inventive. False terror is the only trick they know. If they had any idea of governance or statecraft, they wouldn’t need to stoop to these toxic tactics.

    One of the classic trademarks of false flag terror was on display : the “previously unknown” organization posting anonymously on a website. Of course, western intelligence, using Echelon and such tools, could track any web posting back to its source. If it wanted to.

    “Real” terrorists are known groups that make concrete demands. They are an endangered species, if not extinct.

    Fake terrorists—covert psy-war units of western intelligence—always invent a name of an “unknown” group. They have to do this, of course. If they claimed, say, that the PLO did it, the accused would energetically deny it, spoiling the show. So they use fictitious identities, which they can mold to suit the target of convenience.

    Yesterday’s fiction was a “secret” group affiliated—oh how wonderfully convenient—with Al Qaeda and Al Zarqawi. Yet the state-owned BBC itself has established that Al Qaeda does not even exist, in its documentary film, “The Terror Myth.” And just this week Dahr Jamail wrote of his trip to the town of Zarqa, on the trail of the fabled Zarqawi. The man’s family believe he died years ago—no recent photos exist. Certain is only that the mythical Zarqawi’s base of operations always pops up wherever the Americans want to attack—Fallujah, Samarra, where do you want to go tomorrow?

    Some other dead giveaway signs:
    Scotland Yard warned Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu half an hour beforehand not to go to the bomb site, according to an AP wire from Jerusalem (a slip that was subsequently denied of course, but it was still up at Al Jazeera).
    An MSNBC translator says an error in a verse from the Quran in a statement by the “unknown” group couldn’t have been made by Al Qaeda, and he thinks it’s phony. Blair’s proofreaders are falling down on their dossiers again . . . they ought to be belted or suspended.
    Train bombings like London 7/7and Madrid 3/11 are a speciality of NATO psy-war units. The expert on this since 1978 has been Webster Tarpley, who shows in his latest book, 9/11 Synthetic Terror, how the bombing of Bologna Stazione Centrale in 1980 by the so-called Red Brigades is of one cloth with the Madrid bombings. The supposed “communist terrorist” Red Brigades were phonies, a patsy outfit created by Lodge P2, the neofascist shadow government with Italy in its grip. The Madrid train bombing suspects were police agents, also run by a neo-fascist falange: as Tarpley notes, one suspect admitted he worked for the old guard, the Guardia Civil, Unidad Central Operativa.
    Another possible motive, says Tarpley, is that the war party want to push Bush into Iran, but America has no stomach for it. They need another 9/11 so they can occupy both the Iraqi and Iranian oil fields, and hold the world, all of us, to ransom.

    War and rumors of war—reports of covert American commando operations against targets inside Iran have prepared the ground for war. A storm of anti-American sentiment was aroused, sweeping the elections against the reformers in favor of radical dark horse candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—in turn paving the way to mobilize a war coalition against Iran. Failing that, he may replace Saddam as symbol of vilification while keeping Iran shackled by backward fundamentalism.

    Tarpley’s book has a chapter named “Islamic Fundamentalism: Fostered by U. S. Foreign Policy.” It’s a policy going back to the 19th century British Arab Bureau, crown purveyors of divide and conquer tactics, who hit on xenophobic fundamentalism as the tool to make the Arabs impossible partners for alliances with any of Britain’s rivals.

    “Poster boy” Osama bin Laden is only the latest product of this policy. Alternative writers in the West are quick to point out the demagogic effect his image has on Western publics. Few of them realize the deeply cynical obverse of the covert strategy: feeding the Arabs on the poison pills of false hopes in a terrorist hero.

    Yet Arab admiration for Osama has remained platonic. Anthropologists long ago noted the Arab tendency to vent feelings in words rather than actions. Many Muslims felt bound to fight in Afghanistan against the atheist Soviet occupier, but the BBC’s Terror Myth documentary recounts how bin Laden and Zawahiri utterly failed to mobilize real Arabs to the way of terrorism against innocent citizens. Tarpley adduces evidence that Zawahiri is probably bin Laden’s handler from MI-6. Enter now the shadowy world of the alphabet agencies and their covert clients, the patsies and moles, who live a tunnel life, like the trains of London they have fed on this time.

    O lovers of peace and opponents of war: never shall you see an end of calamities instigated by the war party, until the people see through the false flag trick. It is not in marching that wars are stopped, but by understanding.

    By John Leonard- publisher of Webster Griffin Tarpley’s “9/11 Synthetic Terror.”

  6. Gosh! You should write a book about this. The Da Vinci Code has gone off the boil. You’d make a mint. Have you read Foucault’s Pendulum by the way?

  7. I agree with Edward. One problem though is that I don’t see the kind of issues he is talking about surfacing, yet, in the US. Bush’s radio address on Saturday was the same GWOT spiel that he’s been giving for 3+ years, updated to say some Churchillian things about London. “we’re fighting them abroad so that we don’t have to fight them here at home” is still there. Condi doesn’t see any causal link between the GWOT and terrorism trends, except the usual “sign of desperation” rubbish that Cheney trotted out for evaluating the Iraqi insurgency. Maybe if Blair starts to show some doubts, it might work its way to higher circles in the US.

  8. Just waking up after a sound nights sleep and I discover that, thank god, Birmingham seems to have been a false alarm:

    “In a sign of the continued state of alert, police evacuated 20,000 people from Birmingham’s central entertainment district Saturday night after intelligence indicating a “substantial threat,” said Stuart Hyde, assistant chief constable of West Midlands Police.”

    “He said the alert was not likely connected to the subway and bus bombings. A controlled explosion to disarm a suspicious object was carried out on a Birmingham bus, and officers concluded there was no explosive device.”

    I think the scale of the Birmingham containment operation gives an indication of the gravity of the situation, the simultaneity of the bombings means that the best guess is that the culprits are still alive and kicking, and that they and the police are now in a race. They will most probably want to end it taking people with them, we and the police will want to avoid this at all costs.

    @ Gulliver

    I was pretty tired and sleepy when I put my last comment last night. I think I missed some of the big, and most difficult, issues. It is worth looking closely at what Blair actually said:

    “Probably with this type of terrorism the solution cannot only be the security measures. I have never really doubted that myself,”

    “I think this type of terrorism has very deep roots,” Blair said. “As well as dealing with the consequences of this ? trying to protect ourselves as much as any civil society can ? you have to try to pull it up by its roots,”

    That meant boosting understanding between people of difference religions, helping people in the Middle East see a path to democracy and easing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.

    “Ultimately what we now know, if we didn’t before, is that where there is extremism, fanaticism or acute and appalling forms of poverty in one continent, the conseqences no longer stay fixed in that continent,” Blair said.

    Now on one level there is nothing new here, but I think there is a change of emphasis. The big issues I didn’t touch on are democracy, Israel/Palestine and support for government in Islamic countries who are trying to fight this terrorism as we are.

    Of course Gulliver, and this may not be popular, this would indicate that Blair may now stand firmer than ever on Turkey membership of the EU.

    On democracy, I think what we are learning is something about means not ends. At the time of the war with Iraq we did not know that the principal declared objective was going to be establishing democracy. In war I think it is always a mistake to change objectives in mid-stream. We can now – unless our name is Rupert – see that this isn’t working the way the advocates had hoped. What we will see in Iraq is unlikely to be democracy as we know it. As we have seen in the North of Ireland, democracy with normal rules is an extremely complicated thing to achieve in a country with serious religious divisions.

    So I think in the future the attempts to foster democracy, which in the end we all want to see, will take a different form. Whether it is ever declared openly so to be or not, the Iraq ‘experiment’ has been a failure. The important thing is that we learn from this.

    Easing of the Israel/Palestine conflict is already in motion, and interestingly there is less and less reference to this in qaeda type statements.

    The significant thing for me is that in the statement of the The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe the word Afghanistan was mentioned. Now we don’t really know whether this statement has any validity so it is better to wait (incidentally, Juan Cole has some interesting things to say about the wording should validity be confirmed), but it shouldn’t surprise us if Afghanistan is once more frequently mentioned.

    Most of us reading the press will know that Taliban activity is on the rise again, so the country is not a ‘done issue’. Again the press today are suggesting that the (already announced) Uk troop rundown is about to be conctretised. You can read here about a supposedly leaked memo:

    “The memo, reported to have been written by Defense Minister John Reid, said Britain would reduce its troop numbers to 3,000 from 8,500 by the middle of next year.”

    “The memo said Washington planned to cut its forces to 66,000 from about 140,000 by early 2006. “Emerging U.S. plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,” the memo said.”

    Obviously the memo may be an intentional leak, it may be a hoax, it may be anything. But the details do fit with the general picture we have been getting.

    The point is, that the UK may be reducing strength in Iraq to reinforce in Afghanistan. We may be getting into hold what you can territory.

    Sorry if all this is a bit rambling, I think you can’t honestly expect more from people in what is a highly difficult and confusing situation. What I would argue with some conviction is that things are fluid, and that changes (explained as such or not) are to be expected.

  9. @ P O’Neil

    “I don’t see the kind of issues he is talking about surfacing, yet, in the US.”

    Clearly you are right. We don’t see it. Indeed it may not happen. But there is a thing called the reality principle, and this should work its way through. Blair says about London that there is no 100% security guarantee, Rice essentially agrees. So the conclusion you could reach, and it wouldn’t be ‘ludicrous’, is that its only a matter of time before the US is hit again.

    Whether it makes the public rhetoric or not, I am sure that the balance of opinion is shifting in the security community in the direction of the fact that you need more attention to the actual detail and causes of terrorism. Qaeda does have some method, even in its madness. They don’t eg go for a hit every month (in Iraq of course things are different) but in the US and Europe there is a much more protracted time scale. Someone suggested they may be going for one a year in Europe at the moment. This is a kind of ‘optimisation’ process where minimal use of resources and maximum psychological impact are combined. The pace of this can, of course, change in any moment.

    What we also know is that the attacks in and against the US grew in scale and importance over time. 2001 was the crescendo to date. It is not implausible to think that the next time they try to act they will try and upstage even that.

    In some ways I understand all the vitriol in the debate in the US, since it may well be desireable to steer the general public away from focusing on this kind of issue (in a way this *would* be to let the terrorists win, since they play as much with fear as they do with reality) so a strong ‘war of words’ with someone can deflect attention.

    The central point is that this can only go so far in any one direction without becoming pure fantasy, so there is a constant pressure to get back to the main topic. And this topic is the WoT, and how to move it forward.

    “Maybe if Blair starts to show some doubts, it might work its way to higher circles in the US.”

    Obviously in some ways Blair now has (on yet another topic) the initiative. He has not burnt his bridges with anyone, this is a very important strategic advantage. OTOH there are a lot of very intelligent people in the US, and some of them work to advise and inform Bush, so I think they may well be able to reach these conclusions unaided. I seriously doubt that Cheney’s and Rumsfelds stars are exactly in the ascendant right now, and curiously, I think Bolton’s UN campaign may be grinding to a halt. I don’t know, it’s too early to say anything for sure on this front.

    Personally I am in a moral dilemna here. I accepted reluctantly the Iraq war since ‘our Tony’ persuaded me with his impassioned pleas about terrorism and WMDs. Later I felt cheated and used.

    So I am angry with him, and ideally I would like him sent to a distant and isolated spot and made to remain there. But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in a ‘second best’ one. And in this second best world Blair is one of the best political assets those of us who want a more civilised version of it seem to have. So my moral battle with myself is: do I forgive him? (Anyone else having these thoughts?).

    Curiously there is historical precedent. Ms T always wanted to be considered the new Churchill, but she really wasn’t up to operating on this level precisely due to her inability to unite people behind her. Now Churchill had many faces. There was the Churchill who, as home secretary, sent 25,000 troops to Liverpool (the city I grew up in) to put down a dockers strike, or there was the Churchill architect of the Gallipoli disaster, then there was the Churchill who became the staunch opponent of Franco and Hitler. I guess when he became Britain’s prime minister after the the fall of Chamberlain a lot of people had a lot of forgiving to do in order to get behind him.

    At the moment I am holding my breath, and waiting to see how things evolve.

  10. Curiously there is historical precedent. Ms T always wanted to be considered the new Churchill, but she really wasn’t up to operating on this level precisely due to her inability to unite people behind her.

    Would he without WW2? IIRC the first thing after the war was that he was voted out of office.

  11. “What obviously hasn?t worked is taking an extraordinarily big hammer to try to crack a rather small nut.”

    There are many who will see the London bombings and think, “We need a bigger hammer.”

    Anyway, I agree with the general sentiment but I can’t say I agree with the statement entirely. I think I’d be happy if Blair pushed to drain the swamp in Afghanistan again, with a big hammer if need be (talk about a mixed metaphor). Unfinished business and all.

  12. Scott, I don’t know if you are still reading this, but here is the first piece of evidence that this may be going to have a bigger impact than might have been anticipated:

    “A majority of Americans, 54%, now says that the Iraq War has made the United States less safe. This is up from 39 percent in late June before the July 7 attacks. The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday, so it is clear that large numbers of Americans correctly perceived that the London bombings signalled that a long-term US military occupation of and war in Iraq was clearly not making Westerners safer. The most immediate claim of responsibility for the London bombings, from al-Qaeda in Europe, said that they were “revenge” for “massacres” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans could figure this out and also that if London isn’t safe, then neither are US cities”

    This comes via Juan Cole, and the original source is:

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