March 15, 2004 | Graham

Al Qaeda – Bringing governments down

Today’s Spanish election result where the Socialist Party beat the right wing Popular Party will resonate in Australian politics. It is said that the result of the election turned on the government’s reaction to the terrorist bombing, and that therefore Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar paid the price for joining the “Coalition of the Willing” in Iraq.
I don’t know enough about Spanish politics to pretend to a definitive Spanish analysis. What I do know is that if the Australian government had dealt with a terrorist bombing in the same way that the Spanish government did, then it too would be in trouble at an election, irrespective of its involvement in the war in Iraq. Electors will punish governments that they think are trying to hoodwink them.
In this morning’s AM radio programme Attorney General Phillip Ruddock says that this bombing does not put Australia at greater risk of a terrorist attack. During the last Federal election campaign I was on a panel on ABC radio and the day before Peter Costello had made a comment that Australia was a potential terrorist target. My two fellow panelists, both of whom were from the left of the political spectrum pooh-poohed this suggestion, as did the interviewer. I was the only one who thought it a reasonable conclusion for Costello to make.
How things have changed. If I were on that panel today those same panelists would undoubtedly be saying that this attack definitely makes Australia a greater terrorist target. The left has moved from denying the reality of risk, because they thought that it worked in Howard’s favour, to overstating it, because they think it works against him.
In fact, this attack probably means that the risk has increased slightly, not the least because the event has apparently changed a government, while the perception of risk will have increased significantly.
For me one of the most disturbing aspects about the way we discuss the struggle with Islamic fundamentalists and the war in Iraq is the way in which we change our tune not to suit the facts but to suit our ideological or political prejudice.
For Ruddock to be saying categorically that this does not increase the risk of Australia being a terrorist target is as nonsensical as saying a few years ago that we weren’t a terrorist target at all.
In terms of ideological bias it will be interesting to see how many of the critics of government policy on Iraq will be keen to claim the Spanish bombing is a result of Spanish involvement in the war in Iraq. I will lay Baghdad to a barrel of oil that many of these people will be the same people who say that there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
While I have never heard of any real evidence linking Hussein and Al Qaeda at a formal level, any analysis of Middle Eastern issues which fails to see that there is a deep and abiding convergence of interest between regimes like Hussein’s and the terrorists, which expresses itself in spontaneous and mutually supportive activity is not analyzing this problem properly. That means, that even if there are no formal links, it is prudent and more effective to deal with them as though there were, because they will tend to behave in that way anyway.
The terror attack in Spain underlines that we are a terrorist target and that any government that attempts to manipulate the threat of terror for its own political gain, puts its own survival at risk. Given the attacks apparent effectiveness in changing a government one should also assume that the risk of an attack in Australia, and the US, will escalate in the period immediately before our respective elections are due.

Posted by Graham at 10:28 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Yep, this war just won’t go away. While agreeing with much of what you say, I have a response about one thing in particular.
    Any ‘convergence of interest’ between Hussein’s regime and Islamic terrorists would have been mostly due to shared opposition to US power, now so overtly demonstrated by the Bush administration. But this opposition to current US policy is a very broad church, and would include many interests, including the PRC and ultimately the EU (not to mention the US Democrats). The US (and Britain) cannot avoid criticism for the whole sorry business in Iraq – indeed, in the past the US actively supported Hussein as an alternative to radical Islamic power in the Gulf, hence the war with Iran.
    More specifically, Iraq is Islamic as is Al Quaeda. Islamic fundamentalists hated Hussein, basically a secular nationalist, and any convergence is mostly a result of US actions. Of course now Iraq has become a rallying cause and a magnet for Islamic radical terrorists, just as the Pentagon among others warned. Furthermore, the US is creating the conditions in Iraq for a radical Islamic government like Iran, which has supported international terrorism, to arise.
    John Howard has supported Bush all along in these developments.
    Unless we accept Huntington’s theory about an inevitable ‘clash of civilisations’, we have to keep in mind that it was Bush that started this latest conflict in Iraq and had planned to do so before 911.
    Oz likely became some sort of possible terrorist target after our intervention in East Timor, which was probably supported by the Oz population, but became a much more obvious one after the invasion of Iraq, an illegal war apparently not supported by the Oz population.

    Comment by peter mcmahon — March 15, 2004 @ 1:15 pm

  2. The violent struggle is between Christian Fundamentalists and Islam Fundamentalists.
    Both sides are violent and cause the deaths of large numbers of civilians.
    The wealthy Christian Fundamentalists use high tech weapons to kill and it is called war.
    The poorer Islamic Fundamentalists use car bombs and suicide bombers and it is called terrorism.
    Unless we can reclaim Christianity and Islam from the fundamentalists there will be no reduction in the violence and suffering in the world

    Comment by John Schindler — March 15, 2004 @ 5:28 pm

  3. Peter, I just wanted to ask whether it would be true to say that other countries, who were not supportive or involved with the Iraq situation, have also fallen victim to Al Quaeda?

    Comment by Darlene — March 18, 2004 @ 1:49 pm

  4. Darlene, In a real sense we are all now victims of Al Quaeda because of the way the world situation has changed. But as is becoming more and more clear, the US and its allies were diverted from dealing with terrorism by the war in Iraq. See my blog entry above.

    Comment by peter mcmahon — March 18, 2004 @ 7:16 pm

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