Monday, July 18, 2005

Security, Terrorism and the UK

Such a benign title, no? Want a more eye-catching title? How about "Riding Pillion for Tackling Terrorism is a High-risk Policy"?

It was that second line -- the headline of the first, brief article in the Chatham House's (LINK) report published yesterday in London -- that seized upon a large chunk of yesterday's news cycle.

Commentator Bill O'Reilley, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, BBC News, and countless others across the continents debated the link between the Iraq invasion and the London bombings.

The headline in the .pdf of the Chatham report, made available on their website, is even presented in quotes, however that phrase does not appear in the actual text of the document. Nor is it a stylistic headline, as the other headlines of the report lack quotes.

Further, just using that headline, which is all too common in today's media, is a tremendous disservice to the tone of the article. Here are the pertinent excerpt from the report that actually uses the word "pillion":

These broad principles seem eminently sensible, but their implementation is problematic in particular areas. A key problem with regard to implementing "Prevention" and "Pursuit" is that the UK government has been conducting counter-terrorism policy "shoulder to shoulder" with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat. There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism. It gave a boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, and deflected resources and assistance that could have been deployed to assist the Karzai government and to bring bin Laden to justice. Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.

This argument develops within the third to last paragraph, and is distinct, of course, from the headline. The first reference to "pillion" is an adjective used to describe the degree of control the authors believe the British government has had in the war on terror's foreign policy.

The Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002 would actually be useful to argue against this point:

(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

Clearly, the "firm decisions" were not yet made, though the British were certainly pretty darn close to hoping onboard the ride.

The second use of "pillion" is now an adverb, for riding, and conjures up a cowboy image -- yes, I had to use to figure out pillion's meaning. In this sentence the consequences are already analyzed, and they are the consequences more of Iraq than of Afghanistan. The tone of the report can be used to substantiate that, as the document establishes the first phase of combat in Afghanistan as a success with a sizeable coalition and more effective British influence on the direction of policy.

Let us now look at the consequentialist aspect of this second sentence: "has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign."

None of these are particularly controversial points. The CIA (The Agency, to Karl Rove and Matt Cooper and anyone else who knows anything) has determined Iraq to be a better training ground than Afghanistan is now. Foreign intelligence and police are fearful of insurgents returning home to Europe, from Iraq, with expertise in explosives and surviving a war zone. Blood and treasure has been spilled in a war, or theatre of a war, that is shaky in public support both in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

So, the article is a well-sourced and neutral (for the most part) account and analysis of the United Kingdom's engagement against Islamic (and all) terrorism at of July, 2005. It just so happens that this report was released a little over a week from the tragic day of July 7th. Could the reporters authors, two professors: Frank Gregory and Paul Wilkinson, have ignored this strike?

Of course not.

The barbarism of July 7th is mentioned more as a result of the war on terror since 9/11 than as a result of the war on terror since Iraq, or at the very least there is a good argument for such. An excerpt that is much earlier than the one about pillion passengers:

(I)t is well known that extremists have been recruited and deployed within the UK’s borders and that in an open society such as the UK it is notoriously difficult to prevent no-warning coordinated suicide attacks, the characteristic modus operandi of Al-Qaeda. The attacks on the transport system in London on 7 July 2005 represent precisely the nature of the threat from international terrorism that the UK authorities have been concerned about since 9/11.

At most, it seems that the authors believe the war in Iraq to be a distraction and a detriment to the war on terror. They would not be alone in this opinion. Prior to this report, Londoners, both elected and not, began to draw links between the bombings of July 7th and the invasion of Iraq.

Barring evidence from the bombers or those that supported them that this attack was explicitly for the Iraq war, and that would not be the m.o. of al Qaeda or Islamic militants in general, one cannot say that these bombings were a result of just the Iraq war.

Al Qaeda terrorists attacked Madrid, thus provoking the withdrawal of Spanish support from the war in Iraq; however, groups sympathetic to al Qaeda, at the least, wish to do harm to Spain to this day. It is overly simplistic, though perhaps part of the logic of the sound bite culture, to say that the Iraq war resulted in this tragedy.

Let us now analyze the portrayal in an article from The Guardian on July 18, 2005. (LINK)

Within this brief summary of the Chatham report, there is an analysis that is incomplete:

(The Chatham House report) findings contradict the prime minister, Tony Blair, who insisted on Saturday that the fanatics who struck in London and launched other attacks around the world were driven by an "evil ideology" rather than opposition to any policy, and that it would be a "misunderstanding of a catastrophic order" to think that if we changed our behaviour they would change theirs.

It is hard to say that this report, which is a technical analysis of the progress of British security in the war on terror, could contradict an interpretation that puts moral judgment -- rightly so -- on terrorists. In all fairness to Blair, he actually said that this evil ideology used myriad policy examples to justify its brutality. His point was that this violence would not have been alleviated by just one, or a small handful, of policy changes -- it is more profoundly insidious than that. I think Blair is right, however, in his well-packaged response an important point may be diminished.

If there could be a Chatham report 2.0, or at least a second version of the first article which has garnered the most attention, then I think there would be a much more careful explanation of why Iraq is problematic to the war on terror. This point is implicitly neglected by Blair and those arguing similar points. If Iraq is inspiring new insurgents and terrorists, as an Israeli and a Saudi paper find. If Iraq is providing dangerous training and experience for terrorist. If Iraq is a motivating factor, inspiring more fatwas against the West than were otherwise provided in support of bin Laden -- Jihad, by it's nature, must be a defensive war, if it is to be a war. If all of this is true, then Iraq does have a substantial impact on the safety of citizens of London, New York, etc.

To argue otherwise is impossible. Any substantial military involvement in an Arab country at this time would have an impact on the war on terror. Further, Bush continues to defend the wars in Iraq and Afganistan (though he needs more defense on the former) as an opportunity to take the fight to the terrorists. He even repeated this point at the beginning of the month in Fort Bragg.

Though Blair and others have important points, most likely to offset the more left-wing commentators, they cannot neglect the fact that Iraq is a substantial problem in the eyes of: The U.S. military, evidenced by the desire to find options to leave and the strain on troops; The CIA, evidenced by the report of the danger of Iraqi trained militants; Some former analysts, like Michael Scheurer, who have deemed Iraq as a boon to bin Laden.. The list is incredibly extensive.

This is not to say that withdrawal from Iraq is a good strategy. That, unfortunately, is a horrendous idea at this point in time. But, more debate needs to be had about Iraq and about the effectiveness of combating terror. We owe that much to the British, American, and coalition soldiers in the theatres -- and the innocent civilians who may happen upon another theatre when they thought they were merely commuting to work.


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