London Hit as Skepticism Grows on 'Terror War'
terror attacks against London's public transportation system, which
reportedly killed at least 37 people, came amid indications of growing
skepticism here about the effectiveness of U.S. President George
W. Bush's "war on terrorism," the policy initiative that
has earned him his highest public-approval ratings since September
Gallup organization released a new survey just two days ago which
found that a plurality of 41 percent of U.S. respondents believe
that neither the U.S. and its allies nor the "terrorists"
are currently winning the war and that a two-and-a-half year high
of 20 percent of the public believe that the "terrorists are
percent of respondents, nearly two-thirds of whom described themselves
as Republicans, said the U.S. was winning the war, down sharply
from 66 percent after the U.S.-supported ouster of the Taliban in
Afghanistan in January 2002, and 65 percent after U.S. troops captured
Baghdad in April 2003.
only did the poll reveal increasing public frustration with the
war in Iraq and flagging presidential approval ratings," said
Darren Carlson, Gallup's government and politics editor, "but
it also showed the public is not too confident that the United States
and its allies are winning the war against terrorism."
Thursday's attacks will add to that skepticism and further erode
public support for Bush's leadership remains to be seen, although,
as noted by Carlson, the growing pessimism about the Iraq war makes
him more vulnerable than at any other time since the U.S.-led invasion
of Iraq in March 2003.
major bomb attacks give little clue. According to a Newsweek poll
taken a week after the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004,
a small majority of respondents said the attacks did not shake their
confidence in Bush's strategy.
in October 2002, just days after the bombing of a Bali nightclub
that killed more than 200 people, mostly Australian tourists, public
confidence in Bush's approach fell to an all-time low: just 32 percent
of respondents said they thought Washington was winning the war
at the time.
to Bush's vulnerability at the moment, however, is the fact that
most Democrats, who generally stood by the president on foreign-policy
matters between the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon and
the onset of last year's presidential election campaign in the spring
of 2004, have been arguing for more than a year now that Bush's
invasion of Iraq had diverted key resources and attention from the
war against al-Qaeda and other hardline Islamist groups, effectively
undermining that effort.
here clearly believe that al-Qaeda or an offshoot was indeed responsible
for the London attacks. "It has all the earmarks of al-Qaeda,"
noted Dennis Ross, director of the Washington Institute on Near
East Policy (WINEP) and a top U.S. Middle East negotiator under
former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
and other analysts noted the well-planned nature of the attacks,
their simultaneity, and the timing to coincide with the first day
of the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit at Gleneagles, Scotland
the world's central news event of the week as hallmarks of
an al-Qaeda-like operation.
BBC reported that a previously unknown group calling itself "The
Secret Organization of al-Qaeda in Europe" had claimed responsibility
for the explosions. The group reportedly warned the "Danish
and Italian government and all other crusaders" to withdraw
troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and that the attacks were carried
out in "revenge from the British Zionist Crusader Government
in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and
analysts pointed to a letter by Osama bin Laden himself that first
surfaced June 20 in which he stated that he was "preparing
for the next round of jihad."
want to give the good news to the Muslim ummah that, with the blessing
of Almighty Allah, we have been successful in reorganizing ourselves
and are going to launch a jihadi program that is absolutely in accordance
with the changed situation."
the same communiqué, he warned the leaders of Muslim countries
cooperating with enemy efforts that they would be targeted. Over
the past week, high-ranking diplomats from the Baghdad embassies
of Egypt, Bahrain, and Pakistan all countries that have been
publicly urged by Washington to fully normalize relations with Iraq
were attacked by insurgents.
Thursday, the al-Qaeda in Iraq group, reportedly led by Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, announced that it had executed the chargé d'affaires
at the Egyptian mission who had been tapped to be the first Arab
ambassador accredited to Baghdad, Imad al-Sharif, who was abducted
from near his home earlier this week.
Chertoff, the secretary for Homeland Security, indicated he also
believed that an al-Qaeda-like group was involved but stressed that
Washington had no "specific credible information of an imminent
attack here." His department raised the terrorism warning alert
to "orange" and ordered extra precautions on public transportation
systems, especially the rail system.
the same time, he said London's bombings were "not an occasion
for undue anxiety" in the United States.
who arrived at Gleneagles Wednesday, expressed his solidarity with
the British and repeated an oft-used line that "the ideology
of hope" will win over "the ideology of hate." He
also said the bombings showed that "the war on terror goes
the latter observation was unquestionably accurate, it begged the
larger question of how that war is defined and carried out.
polls over the last two months showing a sharp plunge in public
approval for the way Bush has carried out the war in Iraq, the president
last week tried to rally the nation once again in a primetime speech
that was clearly designed to frame U.S. efforts in Iraq an
issue on which the public shown greater skepticism as central
to the "war on terror," the issue on which his approval
ratings have been highest.
before the speech, a New York Times/CNN poll, for example,
found that public approval for his handling of Iraq was just 37
percent, while approval for his "campaign against terrorism"
stood at 52 percent, 15 percentage points higher.
renewed efforts to associate the Iraq war with the war on terror,
which drew loud complaints from Democrats and the media, may not
be as effective as in the past. However, a succession of polls in
recent months has shown that the public has come increasingly to
see the two wars as separate.
for the first since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a plurality of the
public, by a 50-47 percent margin, sees Iraq as distinct from the
war on terrorism, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll
released last week. The same poll found that a similar plurality
believes the war in Iraq has made the U.S. less safe from terrorism,
and a 53-percent majority now believes that the Iraq invasion was
itself a mistake.
fact that al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates has now struck in the
heart of another western capital and Washington's closest
ally, no less could add to the growing sense that the Iraq
war was and remains a diversion from the fight against al-Qaeda,
despite the reportedly growing participation of radical Islamists
in that conflict.
the same time, according to Steven Kull, director of the University
of Maryland's Program of International Policy Attitudes (PIPA),
the attacks could favor Bush, at least in the short term.
there are bombings close to home, it generates fear, and fear intensifies
concern about terrorism and makes people marginally more receptive
to the kind of frames that Bush has used," he said.
Lobe [send him mail] is Inter Press
Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service