Hard News by Russell Brown

Hearts and minds

I seem to be writing even longer blogs than usual at the moment; but you get that on the big jobs. So anyway, my old correspondent Neil Morrison has taken issue with last week's post suggesting that invading and occupying Iraq was having a somewhat counterproductive impact on the War on Terror.

In his own blog, The Sock Thief, Neil muses thus on my argument:

He is arguing that somehow Bush and Blair have got it wrong, that in fact their actions have made countries like Turkey more susceptible to the appeal of terrorism. Is this really true?

It genuinely puzzles me that, even if they hold to their belief that the war was well-advised, timely and justified, people like Neil - and the incorrigible Gordy - find it so difficult to acknowledge that, even in a few ways, "somehow Blair and Bush have got it wrong", and quite seriously so.

You only need to look back through some of the earlier rationales for war - and lordy there have been a few. Wasn't the idea to win hearts and minds through liberation? Weren't the people of the countries surrounding Iraq supposed to rise up, face West and demand pluralistic democracy for themselves? Wasn't that the promise? Instead, every piece of research in those countries indicates a collapse in confidence in us and the ideals we're trying to promote.

Turkey was a country that largely appeared to have made its peace with Israel. Yet, two weeks ago, there were grisly attacks on synagogues, the first in decades. Bush even declared Turkey to be the "new front" in the war against terror. I'm sure the Turks are bloody delighted about that. (But wasn't Iraq the new front only a few weeks ago? Does that mean Turkey is the new Iraq? I'm confused.)

Neil's contention is essentially that the well-documented collapse in goodwill for the US and for the West in Islamic countries has had no significant impact in the battle against terrorism - or, to put it another way, that it was purely and simply a matter of time before al-Qaeda got around to killing people in Turkey:

Let's go back to the Clinton years for a moment. What was happening when Clinton (bi-passing the UN of course) was protecting Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from Christian fascists? Bin Laden was planning 9/11 and carrying out bombings against US embassies in Africa, killing many locals. Islamic extremists were killing other Muslims from Algeria to Afghanistan. All this well before Bush came to office.

Okay, let's. There are some huge differences between Kosovo and Iraq. There was a clear goal and a present emergency in Kosovo. The strategy was realistic and it worked. The action was taken through NATO, and not a make-believe coalition. The US government didn't have to tear its own intelligence services apart to put up a case for war. (I think the US had to go into Afghanistan as well; although they could have done with a Wesley Clark, and it would have been nice if they'd finished the job instead of scooting off to invade the next place.) But the fact that Neil has to throw a secular nation like Turkey, on the verge of joining the EU, into a basket with ruined states like Algeria, Afghanistan and the Sudan is something of an indictment of his argument.

The point is, that it appears these attacks weren't carried about by al-Qaeda itself, but by local proxies. Anyone dismissing the idea that the massive antipathy generated by the conduct of US policy has helped create the conditions for that development is denial. But don't take my word for it. Try last week's speech by Germany's foreign espionage chief - yes, he's European and thus an unreliable coward, etc, etc, but read it anyway:

Anti-American and anti-Western sentiment is growing out of anger at the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Germany's foreign spy chief said Thursday.

August Hanning, head of the Federal Intelligence Service, said the U.S. occupation of Iraq has become a new rallying point for a resurgent al-Qaida.

"Successes on the military front alone will not lead to a solution," Hanning said in a speech to a conference on the Middle East in Pullach, near Munich, where his agency is based.

"We are in the process of losing the battle for people's minds."

The reliably pungent Billmon is saying much the same about the Iraq adventure this week:

How many foreign intelligence sources have dried up since March? How many foreign leaders - like Pakistan's Musharraf - have pulled their punches in dealing with homegrown jihadist groups? How many cops and intelligence officers in the Islamic world have quietly begun to sabotage their own governments' anti-terrorism efforts, leading to more episodes like this one back in April:

Yemen was questioning two senior secret-police officers yesterday after 10 al-Qaida suspects, including two linked to the suicide bombing of the American warship USS Cole, escaped from a Yemeni jail, an official said.

As I said, it's probably impossible to quantify the damage. But whatever it is, it's more than we can afford. Al Qaeda's revival -- despite the death or capture of much of its pre-9/11 leadership -- shows how little margin for error America has in this war. The terrorists are every bit as cunning and ruthless and fanatical as the propaganda masters say they are, which is why America simply can't afford to give them too many breaks: Not if it wants to prevent an eventual repetition of 9/11, perhaps on an even grander scale.

And yet that's exactly what Bush and Blair have done. By putting Iraq in play, they've opened up an entirely new front, one that sucks up people and resources at an alarming rate, but yields absolutely no offsetting advantages in the struggle against jihadism. It's become the 21st century version of Gallipoli -- at best, a bloody stalemate; at worst, a disastrous strategic defeat.

I should make it clear that I think demands for the US to immediately vacate Iraq are naïve. I think the country's future now depends on them staying and trying to find a strategy - possibly one involving some grovelling to the UN - that will offer genuine security and self-determination. Unfortunately, I'm expecting them to dress things up and bail out before next year's presidential elections.

Blair likes to argue that history will vindicate him and Bush for Iraq's liberation. I don't think so. Even if Iraq does turn out well - and I hope it does - history will take a longer view. It will see a cynical policy that embraced a brutal thug, encouraged him to wage a ghastly war against his neighbour, sold him weapons (yes, everybody sold him weapons), failed to warn him off invading another country, waged a war about that, promised to help people liberate themselves but actually left the thug to slaughter them, destroyed Iraq's society with sanctions, went to war on a false premise and with ludicrous expectations driven by ideological extremists, political chancers and profiteers, alienated most of the world, and made a string of disastrous decisions after the war was "won". Breaking off the "success" part and touting that around might be just a little too self-serving, methinks.

Yes, Bush made a speech full of fine ideas about fostering democracy, but as usual it was at odds with what America actually does. A cluster of dictators in Central Asia - oil-rich and morally bankrupt, and with that appears to be the most hideous record of torture anywhere in the world - are treated with kid gloves, and even specially invited to the White House, while Iran is threatened with the forcible imposition of democracy? Really? Democracy is hailed while the brutal military regime in Algeria - which overthrew a democratically-elected government and provoked a war in which something like 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have died - is patted gently on the head. Kareem Kamael in the Palestine Chronicle has an interesting look at hypocrisy about democracy.

Time has a fascinating story on Bush - The Love him, Hate Him President.

Telecom is trying to keep Film Net, its service for the international transfer of big, chunky video files, going as Lord of the Rings post-production winds down. But never mind bunging files across the Pacific - perhaps Telecom could start by making simply sending large files across town on JetStream less ruinously expensive.

I've been mucking about listening to a bit of 8-bit "chip music" online. The Amiga stuff sounds mostly like bad 80s synth-pop, but many of the tunes made on a Game Boy have a certain gritty charm - especially if you play them up load. MSNBC had a story on Game Boy DJs, and this page rounds up the top names in the underground, including Role Model from Sweden.

And, finally, big thanks to Richard Shearer and the crew at WebFarm, who not only sponsored our NetGuide Award, but have just sent up a case of rather good wine, which will be shared by the Public Address folks in the near future (we have an overseas aid programme too). Presents like that are very much appreciated. Go the 'Naki!