It's about Iraq - so what?

Posted: Jul 22, 2005 12:00 AM

London - At this writing it's too soon to tell what effect today's events will have on British public opinion. It seems clear that this second round of attacks are a pale imitation of those just two weeks ago.

Considering how rapidly the political consensus here unraveled, it's hard to believe these incidents will lead to an enduring resolve to do what's necessary. Indeed, prior to today, the 7/7 attacks were already becoming just another talking point in the battle over Iraq.

Whereas in the first days after the murders, only the irredeemable left was claiming the bombings proved the war in Iraq was a mistake, now pliant liberals and activists are falling into line. The mayor of London, "Red Ken" Livingstone, is reverting to form, blaming the attacks on British and American foreign policy in general and Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for George W. Bush in particular. Islamic groups are getting into the act as well, saying that such terror attacks, while (wink, wink) "inexcusable," are in fact "understandable" given Britain's loyalty to the U.S., steadfastness in Iraq, etc.

Tony Blair, meanwhile, resolutely refuses to even consider the idea that these terror attacks are the result of the invasion of Iraq. He can't make that concession, because to do so would play into the hands of his own party's doves who'd say "I told you so!"

This is all a prime example of how politics can distort a serious argument. After all, it is obvious that the attacks in London were a result of Iraq, and in a more straightforward debate this would be an inconvenient fact for the opponents of the invasion.

For years we've been told that the war in Iraq was a mistake because the real enemy was al-Qaida or jihadism. Iraq is a "distraction" and all that.

And all along Blair and Bush have been saying the exact opposite: Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.

And yet, when terrorists strike at the heart of London, the pro-war crowd says this has nothing to do with Iraq and the anti-war crowd says it does.

This has it exactly backward.

Indeed, isn't the determination of jihadi fanatics to defend Iraq by attacking London exactly the sort of evidence required to demonstrate a linkage between terrorism and Iraq? If America and Britain invaded Canada, Islamic terrorists wouldn't care. But when we invaded Baghdad, they immediately declared it to be the defining battle of their movement. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, has flatly declared that the future of their cause depends on the outcome of the fight in Iraq.

Doesn't this suggest in the teeny-weeniest way that maybe, just maybe, the war in Iraq and the war on terror are inextricably bound together?

Now, some may object and say I'm missing the point. The real objection is that the war in Iraq was supposed to make us safer and instead it's aroused even more terrorist attacks.

But this formulation is deeply flawed, logically and morally. First, al-Qaida was attacking Western interests for years, well before both the Iraq invasion and even before 9/11. American embassies in Africa were blown up in the late 1990s, and al-Qaida's first attempt to topple the World Trade Center was in 1993. There have been attacks against Jews around the world, horrifying terrorist attacks have taken place in Russia. The British consulate in Istanbul was bombed in 2003. If Britain wasn't the main target of the jihadis, that doesn't mean their interests weren't at stake. The World Trade Center bombing wasn't merely an attack on the United Kingdom's closest ally (in which British subjects died), it was an attack on a central institution of Western economic life, costing the global economy untold billions.

To say that this wasn't Britain's fight is to say that virtually no fight is.

And then there's the problem of saying that an effort isn't worthwhile if murderers oppose it. Nobody ever says it's not worth prosecuting the mob after mobsters murder policemen or judges in an attempt to intimidate them. And yet, even Blair is buying into the argument that if it were true that the London bombings were the result of the Iraq invasion, then the Iraq invasion would have been wrong. By this logic, it was wrong to declare war on Hitler because of the Blitz.

Sure, the invasion of Iraq was supposed to - and will - make us safer. But few said it would make us safer right away, and those who suggested otherwise were foolish for doing so. But why anybody should be shocked or outraged that terrorists are striking back even as they lose the war is beyond me. The only shock and outrage should be over their willingness to murder innocent civilians indiscriminately. And, perhaps, a little shock and outrage is called for in response to those who think such terrorism is justified at all.