The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, March 15, 2004

No intelligence in Spain/Al Qaida appeasement talk

The A-word is back, at a warblog near you.

So how will the PSOE victory affect the war on terror? How are we expected to evaluate the marginal impact of the victory, without being able to appreciate how well the war was going before the election?

And how to do that unless we were able to appreciate the quality both of the inputs - the resources devoted to the war - and the outputs, crucially, in attacks averted by counterterrorist action.

Supposing I was inclined to make a study of the issue, how would I start? On the inputs side, for example, take personnel: the received wisdom after 9/11 was that the USIC was dismally short of Arabic-speaking personnel - analysts, let alone field agents; and had next to no Pushtu-speaking personnel. How does the current roster of language-competent personnel break down?

I doubt whether useful information on the point is readily available to Joe Public.

Still less information on AQ's strategy (to the extent that that is a meaningful concept).

In the absence of such information, we might try to put ourselves in AQ's shoes (again, a highly dubious concept: there is probably a whole bazaar-ful of the wretched things!), to ask, How does the PSOE victory help the AQ campaign? The warbloggers of the world may be demoralised, but I see no evidence that that despondency is shared generally by Western governments or their populations.

But, even at the best of times, the quality of the evidence relating to anti-terror operations available to the public for good reason barely rises to the level (analogising) which would be of sufficient probative value to leave to a jury. Bald assertions can carry no weight [1].

Is there any operation that the West was contemplating before 3/11 that it will now be put on hold? Is there any fault in Western security to be exploited by AQ that was not apparent before the Spanish went to the polls?

Failing evidence, the War Party deploys emotional blackmail: renegade Spain an example to other states who might be similarly tempted in the future.

There is, of course, a striking similarity between the way that the War Party use the bogey of appeasement and that in which friends of Israel spray around accusations of anti-semitism against those who oppose the policies of the Sharon government.

In both cases, the allegation only can retain credibility so long as it remains unanalysed - a Zeno's Paradox.

As soon as simple, practical questions are asked about its basis in fact, it is revealed as a sham.

  1. Suppose I say, to counter the appeasement argument: AQ will attack a target country no matter what the political stance taken towards it, or the Arab world, or the Middle East situation, or whatever, by that country.

    I have no evidence for the assertion. But it is certainly not so implausible as to be able to be dismissed out of hand.

    Do the War Party have evidence to refute the assertion?


Suppose the appeasement argument is right: how does AQ make its advantage operational?

Suppose that, in a particular country, an election is being fought between a party supporting USG's foreign policy and one opposing it.

First of all, AQ has to decide whether it matters to it which party wins. (Is it interested so much in, for example, Poland?)

Then, if it decides the choice is significant, which party to support? The classic terrorist strategy is to invite escalation. (The Algerian War of 1954-62 is one example: a variety of politique du pire was the default strategy of the FLN [1].) An organisation using suicide tactics must be more than commonly disposed to such a strategy.

Suppose AQ decides it wants the anti-War on Terror party to win: does it just bomb in the run-up to the election, and assume that the population will be cowed? Isn't the opposite reaction equally likely?

Turn it round: suppose AQ have a well-planned operation in that country ready to roll: why should they allow highly speculative electoral results [2] to dissuade them from going ahead?

  1. For example, the use of female bombers invited searches by the French security forces which would inflamed the native population further.

  2. Speculative in the sense that, first, AQ don't know whether an operation would favour appeasement or resistance; and, second, it doesn't know the impact of the result of the election on government policy, or of that policy on AQ.

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