The wave of bomb attacks that shattered the morning rush hour in London today should also destroy the complacency with which many Americans had come to view the war being waged against us by terror-wielding foes. The death and destruction in the subway system known as the “Tube” below ground and on a bus above is a vivid reminder of a central reality of our time: While we have been spared such horrors here for nearly four years, anyone who thinks we can safely divert our attention from this threat is kidding himself, and putting the rest of us at grave risk.
At this writing, not much is known about the extent–let alone the detailed nature or specific perpetrators–of the bloodletting in London. What is clear, however, is that the attackers exhibited the sort of calculation and ruthlessness that has come to be associated with the ideology at the heart of the war on terror: Islamofascism. Synchronized attacks on public infrastructure and spaces with a view to murdering as many civilians as possible and timed to interrupt or otherwise influence national or international events is a hallmark of those we have been fighting since 9/11 in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the globe.
It is surely premature to draw too many lessons from this latest terrorist incident before the dust has settled, literally. Still a few conclusions seem unavoidable:
First, the determination of our enemies to destroy as many of us as possible remains a threat to all Western democratic societies. Notions that the Free World can safely disengage from this war or any of its fronts–including Iraq–should be put to rest along with the unwarranted sense of security born of the absence of deadly post-9/11 attacks here at home.
Second, the nature of those Western societies–in particular, their openness, their civil liberties, and the freedom of movement they encourage–makes them particularly susceptible to such attacks, as well as the object of the enemy’s malevolence.
Third, infrastructure like public transportation are obvious targets for our foes. They are difficult to protect, have many exploitable vulnerabilities, and if attacked can almost guarantee sizeable casualties and extensive economic dislocation. Like the pre-election bombings in Madrid’s train system last year, those today were timed to capitalize upon and affect a major political event: the G-8 summit meeting being hosted by Britain at Gleneagles, Scotland.
Fourth, for the authorities to have any hope of contending with such threats, they are going to have to engage the public to a far greater extent than has been done to date. Vastly multiplying the eyes and ears alert to potential attacks–and to those involved in their planning or execution–is essential in free societies. In particular, the U.S. government must make a redoubled effort to enlist and empower the American people in this and other aspects of the war effort, notwithstanding the protests to be expected from anti-war and civil liberties activists.
Fifth, governments, like their publics, must remain seized with and give priority to countering terrorists and their state-sponsors. While Tony Blair’s stated determination to have the G-8 meeting remain focused on the priorities he had previously set–specifically, debt relief and other aid for Africa and initiatives meant to affect global warming–is understandable, the reality is that the focus on agenda items that are unrelated to waging and prevailing in this war is a distraction we cannot afford at the moment. To be sure, that Islamofascism is advancing in sub-Saharan Africa argues for devising strategies for countering that menace. Those should not be confused, however, with feel-good measures that are likely to prove, at best, to be undisciplined and probably counterproductive.
Sixth, whether Islamists prove to have been responsible for today’s attacks in London or not, concerted efforts are in order to counter and defeat their ideology. This requires not only military measures aimed at disrupting their operations and denying the safe-havens from which they are prepared and launched. In addition to denying the terrorists funding and material support, we must also engage in political warfare of the type that previously de-legitimized and helped undermine Soviet communism. Our natural allies in such a strategy–and its principal focus–should be non-Islamist Muslims. After all, they are as much at threat from the Islamofascists, who seek to dominate them, as are the rest of us.
Finally, steps that will reward Islamofascists for their terrorism while weakening the West’s ability to defend against them should be urgently reconsidered. The most imminent of these is the creation of a new state-sponsor of terror in the Palestinian territories–the inevitable result of Israel’s planned surrender of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank under present, and foreseeable, circumstances. Islamists in those areas, notably Hamas, are making clear their conviction that it is their terror that will be responsible for “liberating” such territories and that they will use the latter to further the liberation of other, still-”occupied” lands. This is hardly a perception we wish to reinforce, or an outcome we wish to facilitate.
Britain was not the only nation attacked today. Of course, it has borne the blow. But it is the Western world–of which the United Kingdom is a critical part–that has been shown once again to be in the crosshairs of terrorists. Applying preliminary insights like the foregoing will help all of us counter and, in due course, defeat the foes that use terror against us.
–Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is an NRO contributor and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.