About a new prime minister and his principal immediate test, Matthew d'Ancona in The Sunday Telegraph makes the most sensible observation of the day:
Though a longstanding defender of the Iraq invasion (I think there are about five of us left now that Mr Blair has gone), I can see why Mr Brown regards it as politically opportune to welcome back [to government] the opponents of the war and to signal to the electorate that, while he cannot pull our troops out tomorrow, he will as soon as he can. What Friday's foiled bomb plot shows, however, is that Iraq or no Iraq, Blair or no Blair, the Islamists are not going anywhere. Almost two years since 7/7, it was only good fortune that spared Mr Brown a 29/6, as a bloody welcoming present from the terrorists.
We have heard so often, and will continue to hear, that the Iraq war and Blair's alliance with George W Bush were a recruiting sergeant for al Qaeda and its affiliates in this country. That may be true, but only in the sense that everything is a recruiting sergeant for this cause: the removal of the Taliban, the existence of the state of Israel, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the end of the Muslim caliphate in 1924, the way women dress in the West. One of the conversations bugged in Operation Crevice that led to life sentences for five terrorists in April included a chilling discussion about bombing a London nightclub. "Now no one can even turn around and say 'Oh they were innocent'," said Jawad Akbar, "those slags dancing around."
It is extraordinary that d'Ancona needs to say this, but there are an awful lot of obtuse people in public life and I have little doubt we shall be hearing from them soon enough. Only a matter of weeks ago the same newspaper reported:
Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq contributed to the London bombings of July 7 2005, according to a leading Church of England bishop.
The Rt Rev Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, said that mistakes in the Government's foreign policy had damaged society and radicalised Muslims, leaving them alienated and resentful.
In an outspoken condemnation of the Prime Minister's Middle East strategy, he blamed what he called a series of blunders for turning law-abiding citizens into potential suicide bombers.
"Government underestimated the effect the invasion would have in terms of community cohesion," said the bishop, who is the co-chairman of the Church's Interfaith body. "Britain being involved in a war with a predominantly Muslim country was bound to have repercussions."
Bishop Butler is known to the public only for one thing, if that. His suppositions on terrorism and foreign policy would be unreported were it not for his episcopal office, which is no assurance that they will be enlightening and is indeed almost a guarantee of the opposite. In this case he managed to talk not only nonsense, but inflammatory nonsense, for the insinuation - he didn't have the intellectual honesty to state it explicitly - that in pursuing our foreign policy aims and forming our alliances we got what was coming to us. Let me at least try to reason those who share that premise into the prolonged silence that would now be their greatest contribution to public policy.
A fortnight after the 7/7 bombings my friend Norman Geras pointed out in The Guardian the selectivity of the type of "root cause" explanation proffered for that mass murder:
A hypothetical example illustrates the point. Suppose that, on account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this and express their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant. Can you imagine a single person of left or liberal outlook who would blame this act of violence on the government's decision or urge us to consider sympathetically the root causes of the act? It wouldn't happen, because the anger of the thugs doesn't begin to justify what they have done.
To reinforce Norman's point, I'll give an example that isn't hypothetical: it was published in the New York Post after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin a dozen years ago. The paper's comment editor, Eric Breindel (a ferociously talented journalist who died at the age of 42 in 1997), wrote an article entitled "Israel's Fault Lines" on 17 November 1995 (it's republished in a posthumous volume called A Passion for Truth: The Selected Writings of Eric Breindel, edited by John Podhoretz, 1999, pp. 178-79). Breindel lamented (emphasis added):
The fact that Rabin and Shimon Peres were prepared to transfer the West Bank to alien rule on the basis of a razor-thin 61-59 majority in the Knesset is a comment on their willingness to test the very fiber of Israeli democracy. Such a path - in light of the Oslo agreements' implications for Israel's security and for the entire Zionist enterprise - served virtually to invite fanatics like Yigal Amir to "protest" their sense of disenfranchisement.
Does that form of argument sound familiar? Breindel was a muscular but mainstream conservative figure who had worked for Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the Senate Intelligence Committee staff and was admired across the political spectrum. Of course he deplored terrorism. But I was taken aback when I read that passage all those years ago. I remain so on reading it now, and would be even if I shared the view that Rabin and Peres had been wrong to pursue the Oslo route. Try as I might, I cannot see how Bishop Butler could offer a principled objection to the line of reasoning I have quoted.