Saturday, July 09, 2005

The timing of the London bombings

In the comments section, "camojack" made the following observation about the London bombings:

At least they didn't time the attack in such a way as to influence Blair's recent re-election. Had that happened, it may very well have had the desired effect...

An excellent point.

Back when the Madrid bombings occurred, it was immediately apparent that the goal of the terrorists was to influence the Spanish election. I was on tenterhooks for the few days between the bombing and the voting, and when the results of the latter came in, they seemed to intensify the grief and anger I felt about the bombing itself. Not only had all those innocent people been murdered, but the country's populace (or, at least, the majority of it) had given their murderers exactly what they wanted. The precedent was a terrible one, tremendously empowering to the terrorists.

Before each of the subsequent elections: Australia, Afghanistan, United States, Iraq, Britain (I don't know whether I have the order exactly right, but you get the picture) I wondered what sort of violence might precede or accompany them. After all, why not? It doesn't seem so difficult to set off a bomb, or even to coordinate a timed attack like the one in London. All it takes is the will, some explosives, a timer, and some luck--you don't even need a suicide bomber (not that that seems so hard to find, either).

So I was encouraged by the fact that these elections seemed to go off relatively smoothly. Even the one in Iraq, in which many people died in isolated attacks, was nowhere near as violent as had been expected. And, of course, I was also happy with the electoral results in the English-speaking world, since the trio of Howard, Bush, and Blair were returned to power.

But camojack's question remains: why this bombing now? What not two months earlier, in an attempt to repeat the glory days of Madrid?

My guess is that it wasn't for lack of trying. Perhaps earlier attempts were comprised in terms of security, perhaps coordination lagged for some reason--but it seems likely that the bombers would have dearly loved to have executed this attack prior to the election. Camojack's next question: what would the British people have done in response?--is unanswerable, of course. Is there still enough of that Churchillian Blitz spirit to have avoided a repeat of Madrid? I hope so. But I'm very glad that, at least this time, it wasn't put to the test.


At 2:39 PM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous fred said...

One reason could well be that the Tories, if elected, would not have withdrawn British troops from Iraq, while Zapatero said he would do just that with Spain's troops.

At 2:55 PM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous neo-neocon said...

fred, you make an excellent point. It certainly is the case that the party most likely to win if Blair had been defeated were the Tories, who would not have represented a significantly different policy on Iraq.

The Lib Dems are the party that the terrorists would have liked to have seen win, I would imagine. While it's true that their chances of winning were always quite small or nil, I still would have thought that the terrorists might have wanted to attack prior to the election to see if they could increase the turnout for this group. That would have been a victory for the terrorists, too, albeit a very minor one compared to Spain.

The question remains, though: why did this bombing happen now? Why not earlier? Is there some strategic reason we don't quite see? Or did they simply do it now because they could?

9/11 seemed rather random in its timing, also, come to think of it.

At 3:13 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

I think they did it now because the security focus was on the G8. I also think that with two unexploded bombs it was simply the "best" they could do at the time.

The Euro terrorists of the 60s have said it takes two people on the outside to support one under cover, so there's a limit to how long this bunch could hold off. It's part of ubl's stated strategy to strip away our allies. Italy's withdrawal announced today would seem to validate UBL's thinking.

At 4:43 PM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the millionth time, the Spanish didn't vote out the Aznar government because they got bombed by terrorists. This whole "pull a Madrid" talk is really insulting to a people who within living memory have survived a brutal civil war, and a fascist dictatorship, and have been getting bombed by Basque separatists for at least thirty years. The Aznar government got voted out, to paraphrase a recent report from a Spanish parliamentary panel, for "twisting and manipulating information about the attacks to further its electoral interests."

Apparently, to a slight majority of the Spanish, it's important to have a government which is willing to level with them about terrorism. Especially when a very Iarge majority disagreed with the having their troops sent to Iraq in the first place. I don't see anything wrong with that. Isn't that democracy at work?

The main point of terror is to terrorize. It's probably even more effective when it comes at no particular time. I would bet it happened just as soon as everything was ready. They weren't waiting for the G8. There was no extra security on earth that was going to catch four 10 lb. bombs walking onto public transportation at rush hour.

The key thing to learn about attacks like this is that as long as there are people who want to do it, there will be people who are able to do it. So it makes sense that we should try to reduce the number of people who want to do it. For Bush, the way to do that was to invade Iraq and hire Karen Hughes to improve our image in the muslim world (has she started yet?). Anything else would be "appeasement" I guess.

And come on, the only real effect the withdrawal of Spanish and Italian (and any other) troops from Iraq will have will be to further diminish the ability to call it "a coalition of the willing". Anyway, it's been 2 years since "mission accomplished." Shouldn't all those newly trained Iraqi's we've been hearing about be able to start stepping up soon?

At 9:47 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Don't you just love anonymous commentators? Speaking of "stepping up", if you had the courage of your convictions, you wouldn't be posting anonymously. Please, enlighten we poor benighted souls with your unsurpassed erudition.
(Sarcasm off)

OK, I may have been a bit extreme there, but I was (apparently) the inspiration for the initial posting...

At 10:52 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

But camojack's question remains: why this bombing now? What not two months earlier, in an attempt to repeat the glory days of Madrid?

Here's a possible answer:

2/11/03 Gallup poll Are you in favor of military action against Iraq?

Under no circumstances 74%
Only if sanctioned by UN 13%
Unilaterally by America and its allies 4%

Under no circumstances 41%
Only if sanctioned by UN 39%
Unilaterally by America and its allies 10%

With Aznar putting himself up for re-election, Al Qaeda had a much better chance of influencing (or "winning") the Spanish election than the UK election.

At 7:38 AM, July 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm. And so wait. A VAST majority of Spanish was against the war in Iraq under any circumstances. The government went to war anyway. The government got voted out. What is the problem with that? Oh, right, the election didn't go the way YOU wanted. Tough. Democracies have elections, and parties with unpopular policies get voted out. Your man Bush should have thought about stuff like that when he was putting together his little coalition.

What, did you expect, that all of them were going to think being in Iraq is a great idea all of a sudden? Or that they should stay in just so "the terrorists won't win"?

And Camojack, how is my not bothering to come up with a cutesy little "blog-handle" for myself any sign of a lack of courage? I don't see your real name, address and phone number listed anywhere. You are just using a (sadly all too common) tactic around of resorting to ad-hominem attacks rather than addressing the points.

At 8:14 AM, July 10, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

Uh, who are you talking to Anonymous? Me?

At 9:11 AM, July 10, 2005, Blogger kwl said...

The bombings in Madrid did seem to swing the election the other way. All of the polls over there was showing that they were going to re-elect the same, which swung wildly directly after the bombings. To me, I could care less who won, as long as they don't tread on me, and as long as they step up to the plate for their allies when needed, as has been the case many times for them.

At 12:04 PM, July 10, 2005, Anonymous neo-neocon said...

Anonymous, you are ignoring the actual facts of the Spanish election (why does that not surprise me?).

Before the bombings, all of the polls indicated a clear victory for the party of Anzar (Anzar himself, of course, was not running). The outcome was seemingly not in doubt. The bombing was timed not only to influence the election, but to make sure the populace voted quickly and emotionally without having a long enough time to reflect on what had happened. There is very little doubt that the bombings swung the election in favor of Zapatero.

At 1:06 PM, July 10, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

To Anonymous and others -- I posted the poll to show it would be easier for Al Qaeda to "influence" (and claim to influence) the election in Spain because the Spanish people showed a greater distaste for the Iraq War than the Brits. Therefore, an attack in Britain before their election would have swung many fewer people, among those who identified with the aiding in the Iraq War as having caused domestic terrorism, over to the side of the "opposition" party in the case of Britain than Spain.

At 9:16 AM, July 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry neo-neocon, all I know is what I read in the Spanish papers, and what my Spanish wife, and all her Spanish friends and family, and everyone I know from Spain told me. But I guess you know better, you have a blog.

If by "clear victory" you mean a lead of about 5% among likely voters that is correct, I guess. What the clumsy attempts by the PP to blame the ETA, despite all the evidence to the contrary, did was to disgust many likely voters and to encourage many more people to turn out to vote who wouldn't have otherwise.

And the fact remains that a vast majority of the Spanish were not in favor of the war in Iraq under any circumstances. So that wasn't a key issue for PP's base anyway. They were supporting them for other reasons, such as economic and social policy.

And by the way, the correct spelling is "Aznar", not "Anzar". "Anzar" is how Bush says it. But since he controls reality now, maybe I'm wrong.

At 2:54 PM, July 11, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

And the fact remains that a vast majority of the Spanish were not in favor of the war in Iraq under any circumstances. So that wasn't a key issue for PP's base anyway. They were supporting them for other reasons, such as economic and social policy.

I wasn't a key issue until the attack occurred. Any voter among the 74% polled on 2/11/03 who connected "Aznar gov't's involvement in Iraq" with "3/11 subway attacks" and who was previously undecided or an Aznar voter could tip the election to the Zapatero gov't.

I posted the polling to show Al Qaeda would have a better chance at being able to *claim* to influence the Spanish election than the British election.

At 4:29 PM, July 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted the polling to show Al Qaeda would have a better chance at being able to *claim* to influence the Spanish election...

Not only Al Qaeda would be able to claim it, but neoconservatives as well, apparently. ; )

But anyway, ok, that was my point. It wasn't a key issue, but it suddenly became a key issue, and the party responsible was voted out. Democracy at work. I asked before, what should Spanish voters have done? Suddenly all decide that it was a great idea to be in Iraq after all, just because "otherwise the terrorists would win"?

And is no one here willing to acknowledge the PP's attempted deception in the aftermath which played a role in their defeat as well? Or is political accountability not a big issue with you?

"Democracy, Freedom, Liberty..." you guys are throwing these words around like they are the cure to all our problems, but when the voting doesn't go your way, look out!

I often wonder if a democratic Iraq, if and when it gets up and running (and make no mistake, I sure hope it does, the sooner the better) is going to support US foreign policy as often as Britain does?

At 6:04 PM, July 11, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

"Democracy, Freedom, Liberty..." you guys are throwing these words around like they are the cure to all our problems, but when the voting doesn't go your way, look out!

You're responding to my post, yet I wrote nothing like the above. And your other statements -- who are you addressing? Me? I'm the only one still here. Read my posts, anonymous. Stop assuming everyone is a neo-con.

I believe the beauty of democracy is it lets people best speak to how their government represents them. I think it would be a outright tragedy if the electorate of Iraq wanted us out, and/or did not become a US ally, AND with us promptly moving to "change" the government there. They have every right for their government do what they wish it to do, as long as their representatives come up for re-election. If they do not want to associate with the US and Britain, that is their right. It's important that we support true democracies whichever way they turn--capitalistic, socialist etc. as long they don't become totalitarian.

To reiterate, the entire point of my posting about the polling was simply to point out that if Al Qaeda wanted to claim they were influencing an election, they'd have a much easier time doing so by attacking Spain before their election instead of attacking Britain before theirs, because the Spanish people had a stronger initial predisposition against the Iraq War, and such association of a gov't's backing the Iraq War with domestic terrorism could more easily turn the Spanish people against the incumbent party.

Please stop the breathless accusations and actually read what I'm writing, if it is in fact me you are addressing.

At 6:42 PM, July 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, sorry, Scott, I should know by now to make only one point at a time in these comment sections.

So ok I thought I had said it but I guess it was only implied: I do agree with *your* point. If a terrorist had to choose which one to bomb to try and influence an election, it would have been Spain.

Side point (I can't resist) I do think we have a tendency to ascribe these kinds of attacks to some sort of "master planners" - sitting in a cave somewhere and saying "so first we'll bomb Spain 3 days before the elections, then London right as the G8 is starting..." and I'm not sure that's the case or if it is necessarily helpful to think that way. I do it myself though, it's hard to resist.

Anyway, *My* point was that the ousting of the PP was a result of a majority of Spanish voters who opposed the war from the outset *and* insisted on having a government that was honest with them about the war on terror.

It was *not* a case of Spain "caving in to the terrorists," as many people (not necessarily you Scott!) try to make it out to be.

That would only have been the case if, for example, 74% of the population supported the war in Iraq, then after the bombing a majority opposed it and voted for the PSOE.


At 6:59 PM, July 11, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

That is correct. I never saw it as "caving to the terrorists". It was clear to me a nation that opposed the Iraq War did so long as it did not have repercussions. This may explain why the incumbent party led in polls leading up to the attack. The 3/11 attacks appeared to them as such repercussions, and so they voted out the incumbent party. In Britain that would've been far less likely. So while I don't see "caving to the terrorists" as the result, it's clear that Al Qaeda could have a far easiertime of claiming just that in a Madrid attack.

At 7:20 PM, July 11, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

correction: It was clear to me a nation that opposed the Iraq War and supported the gov't that initiated entry into that War did the the latter so long as it did not have repercussions.

At 1:33 AM, July 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is in response to "anonymous"'comments about Spain. I too am married to a Spaniard and he is NOT saying what you claim your wife and all the people you know are saying about March 11. The people you are quoting are being manipulated by the Spanish press (I suspect by El Pais) which is the right arm of the PSOE (disclaimer: I am a socialist, but do not support Zapatero's government). If you had any clue as to what has been going on since March 11, you'd never talk about Spanish politics again. Aznar DID NOT manipulate the facts. Any person who has any connection to Spain would quickly assume that ETA was responsible for 3/11. That's exactly what Zapatero, spokespeople for nationalist parties, radio stations (La Ser in particular)which tend to be to the "left" as well as most newspapers did on the morning of 3/11, along with Aznar. The whole country assumed it was ETA. Why was it that that just 2 weeks before 3/11, ETA had been caught with 1/2 ton of explosives on their way to Madrid? Do you know that ETA had been planning coordinated attacks on the train system months before 3/11?
How did you ever find out about the cassettes with Islamic verses that were found in the van? How did we find out about the video tape found in the garbage can? Didn't we see that on TV? Hear it on the radio? Read it in the press? So explain to me how Aznar was manipulating and hiding the facts when we, over here in the states, were acquiring that information? Don't you think if Aznar wanted to cover up the facts, he wouldn't have let the police go public with the cassettes and video? Aznar and his administration made every bit of new evidence known to the public.
How would you explain Zapatero's current negotiations with ETA? Don't see any link there?
And what do you make of the new document found on the computer of "El Chino" (one of the 7 that later blew himself to pieces in Leganes)? The document found claims that the motive of 3/11 was to oust the government of Aznar. I'd do a little more fact checking if I were you and stop buying into the PSOE's rhetorcic!

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