Dead Men Left

Monday, July 18, 2005

Chatham House rules

In the Bill and Ted sense of the word. The critical sections of the Chatham House/ESRC report:

A key problem with regard to implementing ‘Prevention’ and ‘Pursuit’ is that the UK government has been conducting counter-terrorism policy ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat. There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism. It gave a
boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, and deflected resources and assistance that could have been
deployed to assist the Karzai government and to bring bin Laden to justice. Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military
lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign. (p. 3)

It is notable that, rather than describing al-Qaida as an "organisation", the report's authors call it "a movement or a network of networks" (p.3): that is to say, the current focus on finding a Mr Big or a "ringleader" behind the London bombs may be terribly misdirected. However, the summary paper also has a few words on the political rhetoric used in the West about terrorism:

Most of the time, the public are merely spectators to foreign affairs, with the right to protest but with little opportunity to change the course of policy direction. At elections, there is an opportunity for the critical issues of terrorism and security policy to be thrown open for debate. This research suggests, however, that the politics of fear can often overshadow a more informed discussion about the causes and potential policy prescriptions for dealing with the issue. As a result, it is easy to slip into prejudices and assumptions about the ‘enemy’ rather than focusing on any erosion of citizens’ rights resulting from the ‘war on terror’. Terrorism and the shadow of fear it casts can be used all too easily to obscure repressive government measures... it is a disturbing comment if these critical issues are not discussed meaningfully during campaigns in the US or the UK. (p.8)