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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Robin Cook on the failure of the "war on terror"
Cook is a former UK foreign secretary and leader of the House of Commons, and wrote an op-ed commemorating the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Some excerpts:

It says much about the nervousness in the [British] government over Iraq that they had no plans to mark Saturday's anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This was sensible on their part.

Any retrospective examination would inevitably draw attention to questions that they find increasingly difficult to answer - such as why they ever believed Saddam was a threat since he turns out to have had no nuclear programme, no chemical or biological agents, and no delivery system with which to fire them.

A fitting way to mark the anniversary would be to drive a stake through the doctrine of pre-emptive strike and bury it where it cannot be disinterred to justify another unilateral military adventure.
Given popular sentiment in Spain it is almost certain that nine out of 10 of those murdered in Madrid had opposed the Iraq war. There is no certificate of immunity which can be obtained from al-Qaeda. The rational approach is to ask whether our actions are making the world as a whole safer from their malign intentions.

The sober, depressing answer to that question must be that the invasion of Iraq has made the world more vulnerable to a heightened threat from al-Qaeda, which is precisely what our intelligence agencies warned the government about on the eve of war. The bombs in Madrid resulted in the worst terrorist atrocity in Europe in 15 years and were the latest in a litany of murderous assaults from Turkey to Morocco.

Our own experience in Northern Ireland has demonstrated that the only way to diminish the threat from terrorism is to isolate the terrorists and deny them any sympathy from their own public.

The invasion of Iraq has handed the terrorists a whole new weapon to deploy on the Arab street. The great irony is that invading Iraq is precisely what al-Qaeda wanted us to do, because it served their agenda of polarising the West and the Islamic world. As George Soros has observed, "We have fallen into a trap".

Part of the problem of the present Western approach on terrorism is the insistence of our leaders in Washington and London on describing it as a war. As a metaphor the language of war may be a forceful means of expressing the priority our security forces should put into defeating terrorism.

Unfortunately too many in the Bush administration appear to have been misled by their own language into believing that terrorism can be beaten by a real war, as if we can halt the terrorist bombs by dropping even bigger bombs of our own.

In truth we would have made more progress in rolling back support for terrorism if we had brought peace to Palestine rather than war to Iraq, but President George Bush's promise that he would give priority to peace in the Middle East has become another of the commitments given before the invasion and broken in the year after it.

The Spanish people have been charged with appeasement for their impertinence in turning out a government that supported Bush. To accuse them of being soft on terrorism is to add injustice to their injuries. Their refusal to remain conscripted in Bush's coalition simply reflects that they, more than anyone else, have cause to know that his strategy on terrorism is not working.