ONE OF the stupidest responses to the London bombings has been the effort to depoliticise them.
Respect MP George Galloway had told the truth—that the bombings, though “despicable”, were a “predictable” consequence of the US-British invasion of Iraq. This led to tut-tutting from Labour MPs that it was somehow in bad taste to bring in controversial issues so soon after the atrocities had been committed.
This response is ridiculous—as if the victims and their families would somehow be helped if we refused to discover the causes of their suffering. But it also seeks to conceal the fact that the government had a very strong and highly political interest in shaping the public reaction to the bombings.
Andrew Rawnsley commented in the Observer the Sunday after the bombings, “Downing Street has always feared that an atrocity in London would provoke a massive public backlash against Britain’s participation in the war in Iraq.”
Hence the ferocity with which Tony Blair and Jack Straw have greeted any suggestions that the bombings were a response to the war. Hence also the importance of London mayor Ken Livingstone’s intervention on 7 July and after.
To quote Rawnsley, “Mr Livingstone took one of the most crucially supportive stances on the bombings”, denying any connection between them and the Iraq war, which Livingstone had opposed. The pact that Blair struck with Livingstone when he was allowed to rejoin the Labour Party paid off.
Nevertheless, the official story didn’t stick for more than a few days. It was holed below the waterline by two establishment reports.
First, Chatham House—formerly the Royal Institute of International Affairs, traditional haven of ex-diplomats, spooks and foreign policy intellectuals—said the invasion of Iraq had “given a boost to the al Qaida network”.
Moreover, Britain’s role in “riding as a pillion passenger with the United States in the war against terror” was impeding anti-terrorism efforts.
Then it emerged that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, a government coordinating agency based at MI5, had warned less than a month before the London bombings that “events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and as a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK”.
But it didn’t need these official confirmations to tell most people in this country what they knew already. A Guardian/ICM poll taken before they were published found that 64 percent held Blair “a lot” or “a little” responsible for the bombings.
By the middle of last week, ever sensitive to public opinion, Livingstone was on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme relating the bombings to 80 years of Western intervention in the Middle East.
The problem with the government’s line is that it insults people’s intelligence. That arch-Blairite bully John Reid was reduced to arguing, also on the Today programme, that discussing whether there was a connection between Iraq and the bombings was itself a victory for the bombings. That angered even his normally toadyish interviewer James Naughtie.
A last line of defence was provided by a piece of twisted logic in the Guardian by Norman Geras—once a distinguished Marxist philosopher, now a miserable apologist for Bush and Blair.
“Causality is one thing and moral responsibility is another,” Geras argued. Even if the Iraq war was “one of a number of influencing causes” of the bombings, it doesn’t mean it was “a necessary, motivating cause”.
Well, let’s leave aside the evidence that’s come from the 7 July bombers’ families and friends that they were fired up about what the US and Britain have been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s consider, not their state of minds, but Tony Blair’s.
On 10 February 2003 the Joint Intelligence Committee told him that “al Qaida and associated groups continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq”.
The London bombings weren’t just a predictable consequence of invading Iraq. They were predicted by Blair’s own intelligence services. The fact that he nevertheless went to war makes him as guilty as hell.