Straw Backs Down on Iraq Link
On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw backed off his categorical denial that the Iraq war had increased the likelihood of terrorist action against the UK. The assertion was not plausible and cost Straw and PM Tony Blair credibility with the British public.
Former foreign secretary Robin Cook was scathing:
‘ Yesterday he claimed that the invasion of Iraq had “undoubtedly” boosted terrorism around the world. The former foreign secretary also warned that the government would have to acknowledge that link if ministers wanted to bring young British Muslims on side. Intelligence agencies had warned the Prime Minister ahead of the war that the invasion would increase the threat to Britain, Mr Cook said. “The problem is that we have handed al-Qaeda an immense propaganda gift, one that they exploit ruthlessly,” he told the BBC News 24 Sunday programme. “There have been more suicide bombings in the two years since we invaded Iraq than in the 20 years before it. Yes, it has happened around the world. “I don’t think you can make a simple link between any one event and Iraq, but undoubtedly it has boosted terrorism.” While Mr Cook refused to say that the bombings would not have happened if Britain had stayed out of the war, he stressed that the problem of terrorism had worsened. ‘
You will never, ever, hear Robin Cook’s statements at any length on American television, even though he has been among the more perspicacious observers of the Iraq guerrilla war. He predicted, for instance, that the Fallujah campaign would have no effect in ending it. His invisibility in the US is easily explained: he disrupts the manufactured consensus that Noam Chomsky warns us about.
There isn’t any doubt what drove the Leeds bombers. It is not as if they are any longer anonymous or as if you couldn’t just ask people who knew them what was making them so angry. In fact this has been done. Shehzad Tanweer’s former hometown newspaper reports what people said in the ancestral village in which he spent time November-February of this past year: ‘Tanweer – whose ancestral home is in the village – is said to have been particularly upset about the deaths of civilians in Iraq. ‘
After the July 21 attempted bombings, the Abu Hafs al-Misri Brigades (i.e. al-Qaeda), which claimed responsibility, ‘delivered a grim warning that the attacks would not stop until troops were pulled out of Iraq. It read: “Our only message to other European governments is that we will not relent and sit idle before the infidel soldiers leave the land of the two rivers.” ‘
So I don’t know what was in Straw’s mind, but the connection is clear as day.
Given how easy and inexpensive it is to conduct a terrorist attack such as July 7, the cost of terrorism must increasingly be factored into major foreign policy initiatives like the Iraq War. That isn’t to say it should be a decisive factor. But it is a potential cost.
Look, if the US and the UK decide to do something and it is the right thing to do, and they can get a United Nations Security Council resolution for it so that it is legal, then they should do it. If there is a terrorist response, too bad. Cost of doing business. But where they are doing things that are illegal in international law, where their own publics are divided, where there is an air of adventurism about the enterprise, then the cost in terrorism may well be seen as intolerable by the public.
There is also a cost in terrorism of making bad policy or doing nothing with regard to other hot spots. Why can’t some reasonable accommodation be found for the perennial Kashmir problem, which has been involved in 3 conventional wars between India and Pakistan and almost produced a nuclear holocaust in 2002? Can’t the sole superpower and its European allies get some movement here?
What about Palestine? Why put up with the irresponsible policies of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, if they are going to help get Americans and British killed? Can’t the US and the UK knock some heads together here? Some might point to the unilateral Israeli withdrawal of colonists from Gaza as progress. But no unilateral action is really part of a peace process. And if the Palestinian Authority is not involved in guaranteeing security after the withdrawal, Israeli troops will just reinvade and the place will remain a sort of slummy penitentiary. Abbas is being kept completely in the dark about the details of the Gaza withdrawal, and is obviously bewildered that he is being treated this way.
The Bush administration has not put enough effort into resolving flash points such as Kashmir and Palestine. It wouldn’t be easy, but the net effect on the peace of the world would be enormous. And just doing the right thing is not ‘appeasement’ of terrorists. Doing the right thing is its own reward. If it reduces terrorism, that is a bonus.