Familiar Debate Resumes in Wake of London Bombings

Thursday’s London bombings that killed at least 49 people have rekindled a familiar debate in this country on the question first posed after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon: "Why do they hate us?"

As then, neoconservative and right-wing hawks who led the drive to war in Iraq 18 months later are insisting that Islamist radicals hate the West and the United States for "what they are," its freedoms and democracy and other Enlightenment ideals.

In their view, any reassessment of U.S. or Anglo-American strategy, let alone retreat from the "global war on terrorism" (GWOT) more generally, would amount to "appeasement" and thus prepare the ground for eventual defeat at the hands of the "Islamofascists." If anything, the war should be expanded and intensified, according to these forces.

"The terrorists don’t hate what we do as much as who we are, so there is no safe place to retreat to," noted the neoconservative Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial Friday, entitled ‘7/7/2005’. "And retreat from battling the Islamists in the Middle East would only make it easier for them to take the battle to us at home, as they did yesterday in London."

"Now let’s hope (the West’s) leaders react with the resolve President Bush showed after 9/11, rather than retreat the way Spain did after the Madrid bombings last year," it went on, a reference to the Mar. 11, 2003 (3/11), train bombings that were widely credited with persuading Spanish voters to replace Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a staunch Bush ally, with a Socialist government that quickly withdrew its troops from Iraq.

Poised against is a contrary position that has been given somewhat more prominence in the mainstream media in the aftermath of the London bombings than at similar moments following the attacks on New York and Madrid.

"We’re being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live," Michael Scheuer, a retired CIA officer who had led the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s, told CNN Thursday

That view has been bolstered by numerous public-opinion polls conducted in predominantly Muslim countries over the past several years that have consistently shown popular admiration for western political ideals but widespread resentment over U.S. policies throughout the Middle East, particularly its alliance with Israel, its invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and its backing for autocratic regimes in the region.

As noted by the Pentagon’s own Defense Science Board just last fall, "Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states."

Richard Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist whose new book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, has received begun receiving media attention, has also been arguing that al-Qaeda and those who identify with it are also driven by political goals.

Based on comprehensive data on the 462 consummated suicide-terrorist attacks carried out around the world between 1980 and early 2004 – including those committed by non-religious groups, such as the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka and the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade in Palestine – Pape’s survey found that over 95 percent had as their "central objective" the eviction of foreign troops from occupied countries or regions that were considered by the terrorist groups itself to be occupied.

"Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism," Pape told the Jul. 18 edition of The American Conservative, "the use of heavy military force to transform societies over there …is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us."

Pape, who favors the return of an "off-shore balancing" strategy in the Middle East, that Washington pursued for decades until the first Gulf War in 1991, argues that taking the war to the enemy, as called for by Bush and the hawks, serves only to recruit more suicide bombers into the ranks of al-Qaeda and its allies, as can be seen in the annual doubling of the number of suicide attacks carried out in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In an analysis of al-Qaeda and the communiqués that preceded and took responsibility for the London bombings in salon.com Friday, University of Michigan Middle East historian Juan Cole also stresses the blurring of Islamist and nationalist (in this case, Arab) motivations and concludes, like Pape, that the aggressive way that Bush has fought his GWOT has actually strengthened the enemy.

"The global anti-insurgency battle against al-Qaeda must be fought smarter if the West is to win," according to Cole. "To criminal investigations and surveillance must be added a wiser set of foreign policies," specifically, acting as "an honest broker in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…urgently finding a credible exit strategy from Iraq that can extricate the West from bin Laden’s fly trap."

That these views are now being taken increasingly seriously here is clear from the growing number of think tank conferences devoted to the question of an "exit strategy" and Congressional resolutions, a growing number of them with Republican sponsors, calling for Bush to establish a timetable for a U.S withdrawal.

To the hawks, however, all of this adds up to "appeasement," particularly in the wake of the London blasts.

"Islamists are most dangerous when they sense weakness," declared the Journal. "The calls to close Guantánamo, the recrimination over rendition of terror suspects, the demands for a ‘date certain’ to withdraw from Iraq: In the mind of al-Qaeda these are all signs of the West’s flagging will to prevail."

That view was echoed all over the National Review Online, a publication that often voices the views of the most hawkish neoconservative and far-right sectors within the administration.

"Notions that the Free World can safely disengage from this war or any of its fronts – including Iraq – should be put to rest…" by the London attacks, wrote Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy.

At least, he added, the bombings served to refocus the attention of the Group of Eight (G8) leaders at Gleneagles, Scotland, this week on the dangers posed by "Islamofascism," instead of their original agenda of debt relief, aid to Africa, and global warming that are "a distraction… we cannot afford at the moment."

As they did after 9/11, hard-line neoconservatives like Gaffney also argued that the bombings should also prompt a tougher western stance against any move that "will reward Islamofascists for their terrorism while weakening the West’s ability to defend against them," such as the implementation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s "planned surrender of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank."

Similarly, Andrew McCarthy, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, argued that the bombings should spur the British to reject negotiating with Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told CNN that the London bombings should provoke the U.S. and its European Union-3 (EU-3) allies – Britain, Germany, and France – to adopt a much-tougher position vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program because of Teheran’s status on the State Department list as the world’s most important state sponsor of terrorism.

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.