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Ivan Eland: Why Did Terrorists Strike London?

Why Did Terrorists Strike London?

By Ivan Eland*
July 11, 2005

Watching the major U.S. television networks after the London terror bombings provided little illumination about why that city was chosen for attack. The commentators on those networks first mimicked Tony Blair’s self-serving “we’re all in this together” assertion that the bombings were designed to disrupt the G-8 summit of industrialized nations. Later those media outlets latched onto the sizeable presence of radical Islamists in London. The real reason that the terrorists attacked London, however, appears to have been an attempt to compel Britain to withdraw its troops from the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

No one can deny that the terrorist attacks occurred during the G-8 summit being held in Scotland or that London has a radical Islamist community. But if the entire goal was to disrupt the summit—which has rarely aroused the passions brought forth by World Bank meetings and which almost never produces earthshaking results—why didn’t the bombers travel to Scotland instead of bombing London? Furthermore, a large Islamist community in London makes local attacks easier to carry out but doesn’t explain why they occurred there. In fact, sometimes, radical groups are reluctant to terrorize places with a substantial potential for fundraising.

More than likely, the real underlying purpose of the London attacks was similar to that of the Spanish train bombings in March 2004 on the eve of the Spanish elections. Al Qaeda took advantage of the Spanish government’s support of the U.S.-led Iraq invasion and the Spanish public’s intense dislike of that policy to drive home the high costs of being a Bush administration ally. The Spanish public realized that the Spanish government, in the name of national defense, was actually endangering the security of the Spanish people in order to score points with the United States. They promptly voted that government out of office and installed a replacement that withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq.

Al Qaeda is likely looking for a similar outcome in Britain, a country much more vital to the Bush administration’s war effort in Iraq than Spain. In contrast to Spain’s primarily symbolic importance for the U.S. war and occupation, the British have about 8,500 capable troops in Iraq. Britain is the only nation in the world to provide more than symbolic support for the globally unpopular U.S. military adventure in Iraq.

Despite the British government’s eagerness to please the superpower, the British public has never been enthusiastic about the Iraq War. Recently aggravating this unpopularity has been the release of secret British government documents admitting high British officials’ knowledge of the Bush administration’s duplicity in justifying the “illegal” war but going along with it anyway. Although barely making a ripple in the United States, the documents have made the war even more unpopular in the United Kingdom.

Thus, al Qaeda seems to want to replicate in Britain what happened in Spain. At least one al Qaeda website, claiming responsibility for the attacks, declared they were in retaliation for Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In al Qaeda’s eyes, knocking the British out of the war would be a major coup. The British people are learning what the Spanish people learned in 2004 and the American people failed to learn after September 11, 2001—the high costs of an interventionist foreign policy.

Anytime non-combatants are purposefully killed, a monstrous moral crime has been committed. But in the United States, no one ever seems to ask why the attackers are motivated to commit such horrendous acts. Much of the U.S. public seems to believe President Bush’s erroneous claim that the Islamists are attacking the United States because it is “free” instead of honestly examining the history of the U.S. government’s profligate meddling in the affairs of other countries.

In fact, the United States is less free these days because of its interventionist foreign policy and the extra security needed to guard against such terrorist blowback. Recently, I noted the tragic irony of this situation firsthand when I had to go through Soviet-style military checkpoints to get onto the national mall in Washington, D.C. to watch July 4 fireworks to celebrate the nation’s freedom. Noting the intense security for the yearly ritual, it occurred to me that by conducting a reckless foreign policy, the U.S. government was increasing the demand for its own services—a clear conflict of interest.

The British government, by loyally following U.S. foreign policy, is doing the same. But because the war has always been much less popular in Britain than in the United States, some hope exists that the British public will put a stop to its government’s involvement in the U.S.-led Iraqi quagmire. Alas, things may move slower in the United States.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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