Naked City

War drums: The real culprits

The July 19 New York Times headline was predictable enough – "June Report Led Britain to Lower Its Terror Alert" – as was the emphasis of the report, that a month before the July London bombings, the official British "threat assessment" of terror attacks had been lowered by one level, from "severe defined" to "substantial" (the Brits issue their threat assessments quietly, to major public and private institutions, without even a cheerful color scheme). The implication was that officials had somehow missed the likelihood of the potential terrorist attack that indeed had occurred – although the change in levels had not altered preparedness in any substantive way and did not have any effect on the response to the bombing of the London subway and bus line.

Less prominent in the Times report was the frank conclusion by the British Joint Terrorist Analysis Center that the terrorist threat has a very particular source – the war against Iraq. "Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK," said the report, made available to the media by a foreign intelligence service. The judgment was echoed Monday by the independent Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House), which also called the war a recruiting benefit to Al Qaeda. "There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism," wrote the Institute authors. "It gave a boost to the Al Qaeda network's propaganda, recruitment and fundraising." The report also said Britain is particularly vulnerable to terrorist infiltration and attack because the government has become a "pillion passenger" of U.S. policy in Iraq (a "pillion" is a motorcycle sidecar).

On this side of the pond, the national press corps is fixated on the melodrama surrounding Bush aide Karl Rove, as an apparent source of at least some of the leaks of classified information in the Joseph Wilson/Valerie Plame affair. Last week the trail moved closer not only to Rove, but to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who reportedly also was feeding reporters the classified information that Plame was a CIA agent and her involvement somehow tainted her husband Wilson's report that Iraq was not attempting to buy uranium in Niger.

But as Frank Rich wrote in Sunday's New York Times, we shouldn't lose sight of the pea under the shell. "This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit – the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes – is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a C.I.A. operative who posed for Vanity Fair."

But one adds, of course, one caveat: The real victims are neither the Wilsons nor the American people. The real victims are the people of Iraq, dying by the thousands for a U.S. and British war that is foolish, brutal, and fundamentally dishonest.

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