Friday, July 08, 2005

# Posted 4:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO WHAT DOES LONDON MEAN? No, I don't have an answer to that question. Yes, I have opinions about the answers offered by others. First of all, Kevin Drum has simply responded with the sober image of a British flag at half mast. It is a message of condolence and solidarity. Kevin adds:
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?
I wish there more bloggers people like Kevin, although I guess even Kevin would admit he's being a bit naive. Not surprisingly, Josh Marshall has taken the occasion of the London attacks to remind us that
President Bush has created a great running wound on the whole country in the form of the mess he's created in Iraq -- a wound bleeding blood, treasure and a scourge of national division which is now impossible to ignore but which we can ill-afford.
From the other end of the spectrum, Belmont Club writes that
The tragedy is that Al Qaeda's perception [of Western cowardice] is perfectly correct when applied to the Left, for whom no position is too supine, no degradation too shameful to endure; but incorrect for the vast majority of humans, in whom the instinct for self-preservation has not yet been extinguished.
Yeah, that's pretty apalling. I expect better from a highly intelligent analyst such as Wretchard.

In the same post, Wretchard also argues that yesterday morning's attack is a sign of Al Qaeda's weakness. He then specifies that this weakness stems from the fact that
Thousands of Al Qaeda fighters, the cream of their rancid crop, is fighting to expel the American infidel from the Land Between the Rivers [i.e. Iraq]. A moment's reflection will show that if they are there they cannot be elsewhere -- in London, Paris, Rome or Boston -- sowing bombs on buses and trains.
I disagree with both of Wretchard's points. His stronger point is the first, i.e. that the relatively low human cost of yesterday's attack is a sign of Al Qaeda's weakness. The same point has been made by Andrew Sullivan (citing The Economist) and, in a somewhat different way, by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

But ask yourself the following question: What if those attacks had taken place in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles? After almost four years of apparent immunity from terror, it would have seemed that Al Qaeda had finally recovered from its initial setbacks enough to breach the citadel once again. If those attacks had taken place on American soil, this administration's record on homeland security would immediately have become the foremost subject of debate.

But yet we treat the attack differently because it was in London. That is not wholly wrong, given that British membership in Europe entails vulnerability to a very different set of threats than those we face in the United States. For example, it will be interesting to see how many of those who carried out the bombings were either residents or citizens of the EU.

Nonetheless, I am profoundly discomforted by the fact that terrorists have been able to carry out such a well-coordinated attack on a Western nation. Moreover, given that the target was Britain, it seems implausible to suggest that its government was in any way less concerned about the prospect of terrorism than our own. And if Al Qaeda can breach Britain's defense's (or Spain's) then can we really consider an attack on the United States out of the question?

Again, it comes down to the question of to what degree Europe is vulnerable to a different set of threats than the United States. Thus, given that we know so little at the moment about the origins of the attack, I think it is very premature to suggest that this was a sign of Al Qaeda's weakness.

Now, with regard to Wretchard's argument that the war in Iraq has diverted Al Qaeda from the West, I raise the following questions: How do we know that Al Qaeda hasn't reserved its best operatives for attacks against Europe and the United States while sending its foot soldiers into the trenches in Iraq? And how do we know that Iraq doesn't serve as an effective training ground for Al Qaeda, where those who survive gain the ability to operate in much less supportive enivornments, such as London or New York?

In a limited sense, the "flypaper theory" is most certainly right; the war in Iraq is chewing up a lot of jihadist manpower. But is it chewing up enough to ensure that there aren't 19 more terrorists ready and able to carry out another 9/11?

UPDATE: If I'd known that Matt Yglesias were mocking the advocates of the flypaper theory, maybe I would've found some more good things to say about it.
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