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London terror underscores war imperative

By Josh Ushay - posted Wednesday, 20 July 2005

At first glance, the recent terror attacks on London seem to have vindicated many of the more extreme critics of the US-led war on terror.

At base level, these critics believe the London bombings were a chilling first-hand example of what they claimed to have known all along: that US involvement in the Muslim world in the aftermath of 9-11 has actually heightened rather than diminished the likelihood of further attacks, and that the war on terror as a result has led to precisely the opposite effect of what it set out to achieve.

On the surface, this is certainly a persuasive argument.


An American approach based upon engagement, rather than the present strategy of coercion, could not only moderate Al-Qaida's behaviour but also go a long way towards preventing the rise of future Al-Qaidas in the first place. This, it is claimed, would improve relations between the US and the Muslim world, reduce the Islamist threat and make the world a safer place.

Conversely - and as the London bombings seem to demonstrate - a war on terror simply makes the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" a greater terrorist target.

While this is compelling, it is in the end unconvincing.

It assumes that Al-Qaida has limited objectives, and that it will therefore respond in kind to conciliatory gestures, both of which conceits are not supported by recent evidence.

For example, the Bill Clinton administration's efforts in the Camp David accords; its ongoing dialogue with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and King Hussein of Jordan in promoting US-Muslim relations; and its mystifyingly mild responses to the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, all indicated its determination not to offend the Muslim world.

This was to say nothing of the 2000 decision to remove the American military presence from Saudi Arabia. In response to Osama bin Laden's aversion to US troops in the Holy Land, the Saudi Government quietly requested a US withdrawal, despite the fact that these troops were instrumental in protecting the Saudi's (and US) oil interests from Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. The result from all of this? Two aircraft flying into the World Trade Centre a year later. The fact that September 11 was the reward for eight years of moderation tends to cast grave aspersions on the idea that Al-Qaida has limited objectives, reasonable demands and can be placated and dealt with through non-forceful means.


Rather, it suggests that it is driven by a xenophobic world-view that seeks nothing less than a restoration of the Islamic empire from the early Middle Ages, which by extension means the West will be targeted as long as Islamism continues to exist.

So what should we make of the London bombings, then, in light of the ongoing war on terror? Because Al-Qaida is fundamentalist, has no qualms about targeting civilians and is willing to endure extreme sacrifice, it is difficult to see how anything other than global pre-emption will prevent repeat instances of last week's events.

As apologists of the war on terror are at great pains to point out, conciliation invites further demands at best, and more terrorist attacks at worst. It is, they claim, nothing short of appeasement.

Apart from reinforcing a pre-existing perception of weakness held by many in the Muslim world, and apart from demonstrating that defending our core values is not worth the effort, supporters of the war on terror claim that a failure to meet Al-Qaida head on is simply putting off the inevitable.

If recent history is any example, it seems they may have a point.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on July 13, 2005.

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About the Author

Josh Ushay lectures in American foreign policy and international security at the Queensland University of Technology.

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