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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 7 July 2005

Topic: Breaking News

London: What to Say?

The only news Thursday was from London -
Four blasts rocked the London subway and tore open a packed double-decker bus during the morning rush hour Thursday, killing dozens in well-coordinated attacks that experts and British officials said bore the signature of al-Qaida. …
The first real hurricane of the season is moving in, sharks are still biting people, that pretty blond girl is still missing in Aruba, oil is staying above sixty dollars a barrel and the chief economist at Goldman Sachs sees over a hundred dollars a barrel as likely (December options are running around eighty), that New York Times reporter is now in jail for not saying who knows what, the reporter who printed the name of the CIA agent and destroyed her cover and her career is still a star on CNN, the man who master-minded the deal to "get" a fellow who embarrassed the president with the truth is still somewhere in the administration, and may be the presdient's top advisor - but the story Thursday is London.

Following the London story is easiest using the BBC News Front Page as it has maps and all, and a link to their live television feed.

What is being said about all this? Peter Daou sums it up:
LEFT: So much for "We're winning the war on terror," and "Let's fight the terrorists in Iraq so we don't fight them at home."

RIGHT: "Bush is right, this is a full blown war and liberals just don't know how to fight it."
That's about it. But Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly, in a post with a photo of the Union Jack at half-mast is a bit put off -
If I could have one small wish for today, it would be for the blogosphere on both left and right to refrain from political point scoring over the London attacks. Just for a day. Isn't tomorrow soon enough to return to our usual arguments?
No. Apparently not.

Digby over at Hullabaloo replies with this -
So, we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq - and London - so we won't have to fight them here?

I think the flypaper's lost its stick.

... Kevin wishes that the blogosphere could not politicize this for just one day, out of respect for the dead, which I understand. I struggled with whether I should write this post for those very reasons.

But I don't think we have the luxury of doing that, sadly, because the Bush administration has made exploiting terrorism their primary mode of governance and because of that we continue to see horrific scenes like today. Bush and his spokesmen are wasting no time is spinning this terrible event to their advantage once again.

I would like to see this as simple tit-for-tat political oneupsmanship because it would mean that it wasn't all that important. But Bush's incompetence IS all that important and we can't afford to let him crawl over the backs of any more dead people to boost his political fortunes.
Harsh? Well, Bush did say, "We are fighting these terrorists with our military in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond so we do not have to face them in the streets of our own cities."

Question. Is London one of our own cities, or doesn't it count? If it does, Kos has a question. "Well, that didn't work out quite as planned, did it?"

He elaborates here in Flypaper:
Bush's latest rationale for maintaining the course in Iraq adventure has been the "flypaper strategy" - it's better to fight the terrorists over there than at home.

Nevermind that the Iraqis never asked to have their country turned into a dangerous den of terrorism, insurgency, violence and death. For war supporters looking for an excuse, any excuse, to justify the continued disastrous American presence in Iraq, the flypaper rationale was as good as any.

Except that it's not working. The war isn't making the West any safer. In fact, it's creating a whole new class of terrorists. Today it was London. Next time it could easily be the United States. And waging the war in Iraq, rather than make us safer, is further motivating Islamic terrorists to strike at the West.

Five of the London fatalities were killed by a bomb in the Edgware Road Tube station. Elisa and I have friends that use that stop every morning and we're both sick with worry. Every one of those deaths today sickens me. Those committing these attacks, like those committing any terrorist attack, need to be brought down.

But Bush (and Blair) took their eyes off the prize - neglected to finish the job in Afghanistan, let Al Qaida off the hook to rebuild and reorganize, and helped swell its ranks with an unnecessary and inept campaign in Iraq.

There are consequences to the mess in Iraq. And today, we're seeing one of them. Unfortunately, it won't be the last.
Disclaimer: I too have used Edgware Road Tube station - five years ago when off to the West End to see Ralph Fiennes do Richard II - and those were different days. It was a twinge to see it today on television.

But to the main point, that this war has made things worse. Has it?

The short answer? It seems so.

Reuters a few months ago (April) - Major terror attacks triple in '04 by U.S. count: Intelligence briefing renews debate over war on terrorism -
The U.S. count of major world terrorist attacks more than tripled in 2004, a rise that may revive debate about whether the Bush administration is winning the war on terrorism, congressional aides said Tuesday.

The number of "significant" international terrorist attacks rose to about 650 last year from about 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides briefed Monday on the numbers by U.S. State Department and intelligence officials.
And then the Financial Times the day before the bombs went off in London -US Raises figures for terror attacks to 3,200 -
The Bush administration on Tuesday released new figures for global terrorism that showed there were almost 3,200 terrorist incidents worldwide in 2004.

In April the US State Department had said there were 651 "international" terrorism incidents last year. But using a broader definition to include attacks that "deliberately hit civilians or non-combatants" the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) on Tuesday raised that number to 3,192. The incidents resulted in the deaths, injury or kidnapping of almost 28,500 people.
But who's counting? Is this "flypaper" idea just not working out, or could the Bush administration argue that there would have been even more of these attacks if we hadn't invaded and occupied Iraq?

You decide.

The endlessly acerbic - and hero to contrarians everywhere - Christopher Hitchens argues that the London bombing had nothing to do with Iraq.

The Anticipated Attack
Christopher Hitchens - Thursday, July 7, 2005, at 10:39 AM PT ? SLATE.COM

The idea here all this could have to do with this:
... the impending trial of Abu Hamza al Mazri, a one-eyed and hook-handed mullah who isn't as nice as he looks and who preaches Bin-Ladinism from a shabby mosque in North London. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States, and his supporters might have wanted to make a loving gesture in his favor.

This would mean that the cell or gang was homegrown, rather than smuggled in from North Africa or elsewhere. Or it could mean coordination between the two. In any event, there are two considerations here. The first is Britain's role as a leading member of the "Coalition" in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second is its role as a host to a large and growing Muslim minority. The first British citizens to be killed in Afghanistan were fighting for the Taliban, which is proof in itself that the Iraq war is not the original motivating force. Last year, two British Muslims pulled off a suicide attack at an Israeli beach resort. In many British cities, there are now demands for sexual segregation in schools and for separate sharia courts to try Muslim defendants. The electoral strength of Muslims is great enough to encourage pandering from all three parties: The most egregious pandering of all has come from Blair himself, who has promised legislation that would outlaw any speech that could be construed as offensive to Islam. Since most British Muslims are of Asian descent, a faint sense exists that criticism of their religion is somehow racist: In practice this weak-mindedness leads to the extension of an antiquated law on blasphemy that ought long ago to have been repealed but is now to cover the wounded feelings of Muslims as well as Christians.
So it could be a local matter, having nothing to do with Bush and flypaper and whatever. That is possible, of course.

And in London now? Andrew Sullivan, another expatriate Brit, has been compiling reactions.

The London News Review -
We've dealt with your sort before. You don't try and pull this on us.

Do you have any idea how many times our city has been attacked? Whatever you're trying to do, it's not going to work.

All you've done is end some of our lives, and ruin some more. How is that going to help you? You don't get rewarded for this kind of crap.

And if, as your MO indicates, you're an al-Qaeda group, then you're out of your tiny minds.

Because if this is a message to Tony Blair, we've got news for you. We don't much like our government ourselves, or what they do in our name. But, listen very clearly. We'll deal with that ourselves. We're London, and we've got our own way of doing things, and it doesn't involve tossing bombs around where innocent people are going about their lives.

And that's because we're better than you. Everyone is better than you. Our city works. We rather like it. And we're going to go about our lives. We're going to take care of the lives you ruined. And then we're going to work. And we're going down the pub.

So you can pack up your bombs, put them in your arseholes, and get the fuck out of our city.
And this email he received -
Work's over but there's little chance of getting home right now. Most of us are just going to go to the pub until the traffic has died down. It's not callousness or indifference to carry on as normal, it's quiet defiance.
And this -
14:05 - I tell you what, if this is an "Islamic" terrorist attack, they're doing a piss-poor job. The pubs are all packed out, people sipping their pints happily, all a tad pissed off, but basically fine with it. Nice one, Al Quaeda - you profess to be from a teetotal religion, and you've given the pub trade a massive mid-week boost.
But then there is this -
"You are right to point out the British stoicism in the face of the attacks; it's quite admirable. However, your expat Brit emailer from London stretches his comparison too far. Perhaps if Westminster Abbey had a plane rammed into its side and over 3,000 people died, the sports commentators might feel the need to make a mention of it. It's wonderful the Brits are going on with their lives as normal and the Americans might indeed do well to take note, but spare us comparisons between the attacks, because they aren't at all comparable."

Point taken. I should add that celebrating British stoicism does not imply that somehow the American response is inferior. It isn't. Americans see a problem and want to fix it; Brits sometimes endure it. Some synthesis of these two approaches may be helpful in dealing with Islamo-fascist terror. I don't see either as somehow better than the other - just different.
So be it.

Other reactions?

This: "... it should be clear to everyone that we are losing the war on terror.... I've grown so weary of listening to the president and his minions pretend as if they are the only adults in the room who have any sense when they castigate liberals for wanting to use police powers in order to catch these people rather than armies."

This: "Let's be clear. The bombings today in London's subway system show how bullshit Bush's priorities are in the war on terror. Even as we pour hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq and the military, vulnerable infrastructure like the New York City subway is underfunded and left vulnerable."

This: "... people aren't paying attention to how little things have really changed since the War on Terror began."

And on it goes.

A cynical friend just suggested that perhaps the French are behind the London bombings - a fit of pique over losing the 2012 Olympics. I suspect we can reject that theory, but he was calling from lower Manhattan, waiting for a bus home, near his office, at the corner by the big hole where the World Trade Center towers used to stand. He's earned his cynicism.



London in happier days - a swan in Round Pond just north of Royal Albert Hall, June 2000 - not that far from the Edgware Road Tube station -

Posted by Alan at 16:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 7 July 2005 22:40 PDT home

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