It’s pretty clear (to me anyway) that the war in Iraq has not mutated into a civil war, as some say, but into the first major U.S. engagement with Islamism, a complicated battlefield in which we and the civil authorities of Iraq are fighting on multiple fronts against an array of different insurgent terrorist groups that, once we leave, would proceed to killing each other. The goal is to foment a real civil war, which it’s my belief most Iraqis do not seek. It is unclear if we can prevent this.
But Iraq is just one front in what to me is rapidly becoming World War III. Another major front is the United Kingdom. You have probably already heard this news:
British intelligence and law enforcement officials have passed on a grim assessment to their U.S. counterparts, “It will be a miracle if there isn’t a terror attack over the holidays in London,” a senior American law enforcement official tells ABCNews.com.
British police have been quietly carrying out a series of key arrests as they continue to track at least six active “plots” tied to what they call “al Qaeda of England.”
Officials said they could not cite any specific date or target but said al Qaeda had planned previous operations during the Christmas holidays that had been disrupted.
“It is not a matter of if there will be an attack, but how bad the attack will be,” an intelligence official told ABCNews.com.
Authorities say they are seeking at least 18 suspected suicide bombers.
The British government’s awareness of this unending threat probably explains why Prime Minister Tony Blair declines the many engraved invitations to turn against George W. Bush. I’m sure he knows he would be better off politically if he could cut the cord that attaches him to our widely-derided president. But Blair sees a bigger picture for his country, and knows he can’t casually discard his nation’s most important ally for short-term political advantage. Here’s part of what Blair said to Parliament a few days ago:
The basic point I come back to, again and again and which I have made many times here – is that whether in Iraq, or Afghanistan or indeed combating terrorism here, these battles are inextricably bound together. It is a global issue. It needs a global response.
Which brings me to the principal consideration of Britain’s foreign policy over the past 10 years. Global challenges can only be met by global alliances. A nation like Britain has no prospect – none – in the world as it is developing today, of pursuing its national interest except in close concert with others. That is why, no matter how tough the test, and these past years since 9/11 have shown how tough it can be – the alliances Britain has with America and within Europe, must remain the cornerstones of our policy.
Do not misunderstand me. I support the US willingly. I believe in the EU for reasons of principle. I supported the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq because I believed them right. I have put Britain at the centre of Europe because I am proud that we are part of the largest political union and biggest economic market in the world. For me these alliances have never been a struggle between individual conscience and duty to my country. It is a happy marriage of conviction and realpolitik.
But just for a moment, leave aside the obvious and deep-rooted ties of history with America. Leave aside the fact that only, together, when the US finally entered WWII, were we able to succeed. Leave aside the prospect of Britain facing the Cold War for half a century without the transatlantic alliance, an absurd thought. Leave it all aside and focus on today and the future.
Take any problem Britain wants solving: global terrorism – (assuming you don’t believe that but for George Bush it wouldn’t exist); climate change; Israel/Palestine; Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programme; world trade; Africa in general, right now Sudan in particular; global poverty. We may agree or disagree with the US position on some or all of these issues. But none of these vital British concerns can be addressed, let alone solved, without America. Without America, Kosovo could not have been attempted. Without Kosovo, Milosevic might still be running Serbia; and the Balkans rather than stabilising with a potential future in Europe, would have remained the destabilising force it was for most of the 20th Century. We need America. That is a fact.
All that, in a sense, is obvious. But – runs the more sophisticated argument -: America we like, this American President we don’t. This is a comforting argument. It separates anti-America from anti-Bush. However it is also a cop-out. Let us not kid ourselves. 9/11 would have changed any American President’s foreign policy. 3000 innocent people dead in the streets of New York; the Al Qaida operatives who did it, trained out of Afghanistan. Following 9/11, American policy was going to shift. It was going to get out after the terrorists with all America’s might and any President who didn’t do it, wasn’t going to be President for long.
When I said, after 9/11 that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with America, I said it because I believed it. But I also thought it was profoundly in Britain’s interests. I knew this attack wasn’t aimed at America per se; but at America as the leading representative of our values. Look round the world today; look even just within Europe. Britain is not the only country that faces a terrorist threat. We all do, allies and non-allies, anyone in fact that isn’t “them”. I thought then and I think now that defeating this threat – whose roots are deep and have been a long time growing – was going to take a generation; and I knew then and know now that defeating it, was never going to be done without an America prepared to lead as America, to its credit, has.
And the truth is, for Britain, it is always right for us to keep our partnership with America strong.
Post 9/11, there were no half-hearted allies of America. There were allies and others. We were allies then and that’s how we should stay; and the test of any alliance, I’m afraid, is not when it’s easy but when it’s tough.
I rooted for a Democratic victory in 2006 and, depending on who’s nominated, will root for a Democratic victory in 2008 in part because, for a variety of reasons, a huge and important faction within our own nation — the left — does not recognize or will not acknowledge the threat Blair articulates so clearly (and Bush in-articulates so unclearly). Perhaps as more of their own people assume positions of responsibility, the acknowledgement will come, and our nation can unite for this long struggle.
There is simply no getting around it, because every value the left holds dear — not to mention the broader American values — will be ground into dust everywhere the Islamists gain control. To recall a long-forgotten political slogan of Richard Gephardt’s, “It’s Your Fight, Too.” And that means you: environmentalists, labor organizers, gay activists, fighters for economic equality, multilateralist proponents of the UN, church-and-state separatists, extreme civil libertarians, “living and breathing” constitutionalists, TV and movie producers, sexually frank pop singers — all of you. All of us.