The Tragic Meaning of London

The repeated terrorist attacks in London clearly answer the question: Has the Iraq war reduced the terrorist threat? No.

We are not fighting terrorists in Baghdad and Fallujah instead of in New York and London. Rather, while fighting in Iraq we are helping to create terrorists around the world.

Obviously, nothing justifies terrorist murder. But policy must be grounded in reality, not fantasy. Unfortunately, President George W. Bush’s unnecessary war has spawned new terrorist threats.

In general, terrorism is a violent political tool. Robert Pape, author of the new book, "Dying to Win," found that virtually all recent suicide bombings had "a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from the terrorists’ national homeland."

There presumably are some jihadists who simply hate America or have wild ideas about re-establishing Islamic control over Western lands. But most of the antagonism springs from hatred of the United States (and allied) government policies.

Polls have found surprising appreciation for American values among both Muslims and Arabs. Hostility reflects U.S. government support for the Israeli occupation over Palestinians and other Mideast policies.

The Iraq war added another, even more galling offense. Polling by John Zogby found a sharp rise in anger against Washington after the U.S.-led invasion.

Although terrorists and their sympathizers tend to accumulate grievances, Iraq is the factor pushing many of them to take up arms.

For instance, before the London bombings the leaked assessment of British intelligence was that "events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity." In a new report the London-based Chatham House observed that the Iraq conflict has given "a boost to the al-Qaida network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising."

The Israeli Global Research in International Affairs Center reported earlier this year that Iraq "has turned into a magnet for jihadi volunteers." But not established terrorists. Rather, explains report author Reuven Paz, "the vast majority of Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."

Larry Johnson, who served with both the CIA and the State Department’s counterterrorism office, observes that "You now in Iraq have a recruiting ground" attracting as jihadists "people who previously were not willing to go out and embrace the vision of bin Laden."

The British government has compiled an extensive report entitled "Young Muslims and Extremism," warning that British-U.S. foreign policy is alienating many Muslims who see "the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan … as having been acts against Islam." Analysts informed the prime minister that the Iraq war is acting as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremism.

The CIA warns that Iraq has become what Afghanistan was, a national training ground for terrorists. Chatham House contends that the war has provided "an ideal targeting and training area" for terrorists.

Warns Reuven Paz: "The battle experience that jihadists gain in Iraq … supplies the Islamist adherents of the Global Jihad culture with a wealth of first-hand field experience." Larry Johnson notes that Iraqi insurgents are learning how to build bombs and run military operations.

The new terrorists already are "bleeding out" across the world. Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine reports that scores of Muslim extremists have returned to Europe from Iraq, and all "are equipped with fresh combat experience and filled with ideological indoctrination."

Improvised explosive devices – the main killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq – have spread to Afghanistan. Suicide bombers seem to be the terrorist tool of choice in London.

Thus, when the president says that the terrorists "want us to retreat from the world so they can spread their ideology of hate," he’s got it entirely wrong. They already are spreading their ideology of hate. Alas, America’s intervention has made more people listen more closely.

Obviously, neither London nor Washington can afford to precipitously retreat from Iraq, allowing terrorist acts to determine national policy. But policy-makers must recognize that intervention is more likely to foster than suppress terrorism.

For this reason, both countries should accelerate their exit from Iraq. More broadly, they should abandon the illusion that invading Middle Eastern states will solve terrorism.

Observes Robert Pape: "Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies … is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us."

The Iraq conflict is providing extremists with an opportunity to kill U.S. troops while learning skills that may eventually be employed in Western lands. The Bush administration’s misguided policies have made the United States and the world a more dangerous place.