Condemning the Killers Is Not Enough

Direct responsibility for Thursday’s terrorist outrages in London lies, of course, with those who planted the bombs. Ultimate responsibility is another matter. In the aftermath of the carnage – only one British MP, the rebel antiwar activist George Galloway, has sought to hold the prime minister to account for turning our capital city into a target for Islamic militants. For doing so, he has been labeled a “quisling” and accused of “opening the gates of Hell.” But Galloway, for all the opprobrium directed at him, is right. The bombs were not a random occurrence that could have happened just as easily in Stockholm, Dublin, or Minsk. They were a targeted, specific response to the foreign policy which Britain is currently pursuing.

The war lobby would like us to believe otherwise. “You can be opposed to the Iraq operation as much as you like, but you can’t get from that ‘grievance’ to the detonating of explosives at rush hour on London buses and tubes,” argues Christopher Hitchens in The Mirror, conveniently forgetting that four years ago, he and his fellow advocates of war had no problem in “getting from” the “grievance” of 9/11 to making their case for an all-out assault on Iraq. “I know perfectly well there are people thinking and even saying that Tony Blair brought this upon us by his alliance with George Bush,” he continues. “A word of advice to them: keep it down will you, at least until after the funerals are finished.” Sorry to disappoint you, Christopher. If we really do want to make British cities safe again and ensure that those who lost their lives last week are not joined by even more, “keeping it down” is the last thing we should be doing. Hitchens’ view that the attacks have nothing to do with Iraq directly contradicts the words of the leader of al-Qaeda himself. “If you bomb our cities, we will bomb yours,” declared Osama bin Laden in one of his recent video taped missives: you can accuse the medieval obscurantist of many things, but lack of clarity about his political objectives is surely not one of them.

But while Britain’s shameful role in Iraq was undoubtedly the trigger, the seeds of last week’s tragic events can be traced back even further, to the United States’ well documented policy of sponsoring militant Islamists in order to defeat the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union. Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state for the Near East at the time when Washington was arming the mujahedin, now admits “we did spawn a monster in Afghanistan.” But even when the Berlin Wall came down and the “Evil Empire” had disintegrated, Washington continued to support Islamic extremists when they thought it suited their interests. “The first and most important conclusion” to be drawn from the Koran “is the impossibility of connection between Islam and non-Islamic systems”: the words not of Mullah Omar or bin Laden – but of Alija Izetbegovic, the hardline Bosnian leader and ally of Washington in the 1990s. In her excellent account of the Balkan wars Fools’ Crusade, Diana Johnstone chronicles how several thousand Islamic “holy warriors” entered Bosnia from Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere to fight for Izetbegovic’s separatist cause – a crusade enthusiastically championed by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Perle, and other members of the neoconservative firmament who are so keen for us to open up new fronts in the “war on terror” today. The neoconservatives’ favorite Islamist chose his lieutenants carefully: the head of the infamous al-Mujahed unit (whose specialty was beheading Serb soldiers) was a certain Abdelkar Mokhari – a member of the Algerian GIA “Islamic Army” and a close associate of yes, you guessed it, Osama bin Laden.

Just three years before 9/11, the U.S. was still encouraging radical Islamists in the Balkans by sponsoring the Kosovo Liberation Army, an organization that J.T. Caruso assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division confirmed was linked to al-Qaeda. The events of 9/11 should have made it clear to policymakers in the U.S. just how dangerous a “monster” previous foreign policy initiatives had spawned. But the most catastrophic step in the “war against terror” was yet to come. Just under three years ago, after the Bali bombing, I wrote, “[T]he Bush/Blair obsession with Iraq puts us all in increasing danger. Any attack on Iraq – by inflaming moderate Islamic opinion, and diverting attention and resources from the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups – only makes the chances of another Bali more, rather than less, likely. It is for this fundamental reason that we must do all we can to oppose it.” Sadly, despite the mass demonstrations of public protest – in the U.S., Britain, Australia, and throughout the world – the war lobby got the conflict they had so long desired. Over 100,000 people then alive are now dead. The “socialist infidel” Saddam Hussein – a man whose violence was strictly not for export – is in chains, while Osama bin Laden – a man whose violence most certainly is – remains free. Far from making the world a safer place, the atrocities committed in Fallujah and Abu Ghraib have given al-Qaeda and other militant Islamic groups a public-relations bonanza they could scarcely have dreamt of. The CIA now warns that post-Saddam Iraq has become a major training ground for jihadists. “Iraq provides a training ground, a recruitment ground for enhancing technical skills,” says David B. Low, national intelligence officer for transnational threats. “There is even, under the best scenario, the likelihood that some of the jihadists, if they are not killed there, will, go home, wherever home is, and disperse to other countries.” Before the war, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak claimed that attacking Iraq would create “a hundred bin Ladens.” He was wrong. It has created thousands. But faced with the all too predictable results of their criminal recklessness, all the war lobby can call for is more of the same. More wars – this time against Iran and Syria – more bloodshed, and inevitably, more al-Qaeda reprisals.

We cannot allow this to happen. Pulling British troops out of Iraq and severing our country’s calamitous “special relationship” with George W. Bush are now urgent political priorities that cannot be delayed a day longer. Taking such steps do not amount to a “surrender” to terrorism as the war lobby claims, but are essential if this dismal circle of violence, which has claimed innocent lives in Baghdad, Kabul, Bali, New York, Madrid, and now London, is finally to be broken.