Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Has Bush only made things worse?

A response to Russell Brown.

The question is: has the Bush/Blair intervention in Iraq been a set back in combating Islamic extremist groups?

I honestly don't know. And I don't think anyone else does either for the simple reason that the question attempts to compare the consequences of something that has happened - intervention in Iraq, with those of something that did not - no intervention.

I do think that arguing that Bush has made things worse is a valid argument, but I don't find it completely convincing. Partly because it relies on projecting our values onto people who think quite differently.

Those attracted to al Qaeda had their own motivations long before Bush was President. Even when it was the US under Clinton - at the instigation of Blair - who saved thousands of Muslim lives in Bosnia and Kosovo, bin Laden was planning 9/11. bin Laden is not interested in our liberal ideas of what is good and bad. The US was condemned even when it was the only country on Earth dedicating its military, risking its citizens lives, to saving Muslims from Christian fascists.

It was Australia's support for East Timor's independence that drew al Qaeda's wrath in Bali. Had they not taken part in overthrowing Saddam it would not have changed a thing.

In Turkey, while the targets were US, British and Jewish, the motivation of those behind these acts is that they oppose not just what happened in Iraq but also Turkey moving towards a liberal democracy and having good relationships with Israel. These last two conditions would exist no matter who was in the White House, regardless of what happened in Iraq and are sufficient to enrage al Qaeda. Those that carried out these acts would have the motivation to do so even if Bush had acted otherwise.

If the suggestion is that a general antipathy within Turkey created by Bush produced an atmosphere in which the attacks could more easily take place then you would need to provide some evidence. I don't see that it necessarily follows (why would the average Turk think that killing other Turks was going to punish Bush?).

I was not placing Turkey in the same basket as Algeria etc (it is the extremists who are trying to that). My point is that bin Laden-styled terrorism has its own dynamics, is largely a war within Islam, its violence is more often than not directed towards Arabs and Muslims, and that they seek out targets of opportunity generally with no consideration of the politics of the victim country. The 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania being prime examples. Attacking Turkey was possibly just a matter of time.

Arguing that the attacks in Turkey are a direct consequence of Bush and Blair's actions and represent a general failure of their policies is a hard case to prove. Consider all the terrorist attacks that occurred and were planned when Clinton was President - is that evidence that his policies were a failure or of just how difficult the problem is?

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