Patrick Doherty / TomPaine.com – 2005-07-09 00:25:02
Why London, Why Now?
Patrick Doherty / TomPaine.com
As I write this, the reports are still coming in on the extent of the casualties from the London subway bombings. The latest AP report says 40 have been killed and 1,000 wounded. There can be no justification for such an attack, which must be condemned and the perpetrators must brought to (British) justice. My condolences go out to the people of London and I can only hope that my friends and former colleagues there are safe.
That said, now is the time for progressives to lead and not just wait for Bush. It is imperative that the narrative that emerges from the devastation in London is not one that plays into the hands of Al Qaeda or into the hands of the neocons, as happened after 9/11.
Don’t Repeat Past Mistakes
That post-9/11 narrative said that America was attacked because “they hate our freedoms.” This turned out to be the first of many lies that paved the way to our current strategic disaster. In fact, America was attacked because Al Qaeda hated our policies in the Middle East and, given their relative inability to strike effectively at either the Saudi or Israeli governments—their main enemies—they struck at those governments’ primary sponsor, the United States.
Yet that simple narrative, “because they hate our freedoms,” constructed carefully by the White House communications team, laid the foundation for the war on Iraq and the expansion of the war on terrorism well beyond the justifiable and proportionate retaliation on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Americans believed Al Qaeda was targeting the United States because we stood for democracy, when, in reality, they hated us because we massively supported oppressive regimes in the Middle East.
This time, with that narrative already established, the work of interpreting the London subway bombings through the Bush worldview is a much simpler matter. Regrettably, Tony Blair has already begun the spin in his statement from Gleneagles:
“It’s important, however, that those engaged in terrorism realize that our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism on the world.”
We must remember that fear is the primary objective of terrorist attacks. Violence is merely a means—and it works. In the best of circumstances, it is difficult for elected representatives to effectively address the fears of a terrorized constituency and produce effective policies.
That’s because when people are insecure, they want to see action, and counterterrorism requires an incremental strategy of covert intelligence and law enforcement work that targets active terrorist cells combined with political and economic development strategies that drain the swamp of support for the terrorist networks. It’s slow, under-the-radar work.
It’s also difficult because most people only understand traditional military operations that are designed to destroy or control a given objective.
A terror attack in a democracy is much more complex: It uses fear to distort debate and decision making. Look at America: after 9/11, we went to war in Iraq without questioning the president. To make matters worse however, the Bush administration has tried to conflate the Cold War nuclear threat and the war on terror in order to create an existential fear that, so far, has resulted in a blank check from Congress.
Democrats cannot afford to parrot the White House narrative again. Luckily, Americans are more aware of terrorism, terrorists and international affairs. That provides the space we need to defuse the fearmongering. But we also need to understand why and produce an alternative response.
Why London? Why Now?
For the moment, I am assuming this was the work of Al Qaeda. If that is the case, the timing of the attack is significant. The G8 Summit has, as its primary focus, two issues that could strike at the heart of Islamic extremism by draining the swamp: climate change and poverty.
Addressing climate change requires radically improving transportation fuel efficiency and transitioning off fossil fuels as a source of energy. To the extent that the United States and the rest of the world adopts sensible climate change policies, the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf diminishes and America has more room to promote real democratic and economic reform in the region. Al Qaeda’s strategy, however, requires American dependence on Persian Gulf energy, to ensure that America continues to wage war to protect its energy supply.
To show just how dire our global energy situation is, Saudi Arabia announced today that OPEC will not be able to meet Western demand for oil by 2015, only 10 years out. Given the timing, this is Saudi Arabia effectively saying that the time has come to turn toward more efficient use of oil, which is also one of the main ways of dealing with climate change. Saudi Arabia just undercut the Bush administration’s position in Gleneagles. That should have been a major blow to the United States, but it will now be swept away by the bombings.
Addressing poverty in the developing world, particularly in Africa, also hurts Al Qaeda’s side. To the extent that America is seen as an imperial aggressor, planting strings of military bases to protect access to economic resources, the Al Qaeda propaganda is reinforced. Significant progress on global poverty, however, also “drains the swamp” of the recruits, resources, territory and cooperation that these groups need to operate.
But the decisions on what would come out of Gleneagles were made well before the summit meeting. Changing those decisions would be diplomatically quite difficult. Odds are that the terrorists knew this. Therefore the attacks are about changing the direction of the momentum, about destroying the narrative of progress and hope that the G8 Summit has produced. The terrorists want to stop the climate change and poverty focus of the international community and bring it back to terrorism. Ultimately, Al Qaeda wants to keep the West distracted from advancing the policies that will deal a heavy blow to Islamic extremism.
Unfortunately, with Bush still resisting any progress on climate change, that job was not going to be too difficult. Sadly, with American neocons still chomping at the bit to attack Iran and Syria, Al Qaeda will find willing accomplices for their fearmongering in the think tanks of the right. How neocons will spin this into calls for military strikes on Iran and Syria is yet to be seen. But call they will.
So now it is time for progressives to keep the focus on draining the swamp, not on counterproductive military adventures that will only reinforce Al Qaeda propaganda. Aggressive and innovative policies to address climate change and poverty are two of the most powerful ways accomplish this. So is a smart exit strategy from Iraq and a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.