Friday, July 08, 2005

The Madrid Strategy

As I write this there's some confusion about whether there were four, or up to seven separate attacks on the London mass transit system. Early reports were confused by the fact that some explosions took place between metro stops and generated reports of attacks at the stops on either end. But it's not clear whether the current high estimate of seven was influenced by this misjudgment. Some sources are still saying only four attacks.

Even at that, however, the coordination required for simultaneous attacks coordinated to coincide with other events (the G8 summit and the announcement by the IOC of London as the site for the 2012 Olympics) is impressive and ominous. If the perpetrators were only loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda that suggests a level of pervasive sophistication, especially in the European cells, that goes beyond what was previously considered probable. However, it is not yet clear whether this is true, or whether the attacks were perpetrated by a central Al Qaeda cell. My guess is the latter, for what it's worth, but it's just a guess (and perhaps a hope).

The mother country is being tested by the "Madrid strategy," and I'm reasonably confident that the response will be greater unity and moral clarity rather than less, reflecting yet another miscalculation by the Salafists who consistently underestimate the capacity of their infidel opposition for moral clarity in the face of totalitarian method. England is not new to this game, and has already won a struggle of this sort.

Updated Thoughts

In the comment section of a previous post GeoBandy chides:

I think, based on the information available, you may be overestimating the sophistication level required [for the London transit attacks].
Well, if you look at the universe of jihadist terrorist attacks, whether they involve suicide bombings or not, only a very small minority exhibit this sort of coordination, either of multiple attacks at the same time and day, or attacks scheduled to coincide with other events, or both. (Whether or not the attacks were coordinated with the IOC announcement is certainly in some doubt, although it could have been scheduled to opportunistically shoot for a "twofer," and they just got lucky.)

Put another way, jihadist terrorist attacks are 99% "little" and 1% "big" in this sense, which means that by definition big attacks are signicant (atypical). And this attack was definitely "big." Sophistication is also relative, and perhaps a better term would be "orchestrated." The Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis, has noted that one of the primary failings of the Muslim Ummah since the Siege of Vienna, which turned back the Ottoman advance, has been the absence of a conception of "orchestration," both in terms of politics as well as music. He makes the point that when the Ottoman ruler wanted to create a musical orchestra he was compelled to hire a western director, and to populate the orchestra with western musicians. Orchestration is a capacity that the West developed a long time ago, and ironically we acquired that sort of "sophistication" at almost the precise point in history that Islam seems to have lost it. (The turning point was actually earlier than the Siege of Vienna. That was just the event where the disparity became decisive.)

So the concept of orchestration is relevant not only in the sense of a threat represented by groups like Al Qaeda, but ironically it's also germain to the ability of the Islamic world to mature beyond a compulsion for terrorism and totalitarianism. The irony is that the ability to orchestrate terrorist attacks in this way could be symptomatic of a healthy shift within Islam that, if cultivated, might eventually eliminate the impulse to terrorism, especially if transferred to business or production, or even representative politics.

Returning to the initial question about whether this attack was "sophisticated," I think the fact that so few terrorist attacks demonstrate such orchestration suggests that there is only a smallish group of "extremists" who are so capable, so at least in a relative sense it's appropriate to call it "sophisticated." But ultimately the question must be:

Is the "Islamic World" (exclusive of the jihadists, who aren't going to change) sophisticated enough to turn swords into plowshares?


Update to Updated Thoughts

The Belmont Club agrees that the London transit attacks were at a high level of "sophistication,"... even higher than the Madrid attacks, in fact, and for precisely the same reason that I've discussed: orchestration:

These coordinated attacks are, technically speaking, at far higher level of sophistication than the Madrid attacks of 3/11 which involved a single train. The attack on London was a "time on target" attack which required simultaneity so that one incident did not compromise the subsequent. By implication the personnel involved received some degree of training and planned the operation in sufficient secrecy to prevent British security services from getting wind of it. The six attacks probably mean that a minimum of forty persons were involved, if those in support roles are included. The attackers must have an egress plan or access to safe houses where they can weather the inevitable crackdown.
He also notes, however, that the increased sophistication doesn't necessarily reflect increased strenghth:

The first and most important hard fact to grasp is that this Al Qaeda strike, their first against an Anglosphere city since 9/11, has caused much less damage than that on New York. This despite the fact that Al Qaeda has had nearly four years to brood on its humiliations and losses and to plot its revenge. The reasons for this are simple: the enemy is now operating in a much more hostile environment.
Nonetheless, George Galloway and the anti-war left continue to argue that this attack proves their point that Iraqi Freedom has not made us safer. For those Americans and Brits cognizant of "sophisticated" notions like counterfactual analysis (what would have happened had we not done what we did) this simple-minded claim, in light of Wretchard's analysis, seems less than convincing.

Is Iraq Al Qaeda's "Second Front" or Its Fort Benning?

Again, from Wretchard

If it were true that Islamism would shrivel faster were it pursued more passively, then pre-911 policy should have finished it by now. But what we empirically observe is that ignoring them allowed them to mount [a] 911-scale attack. Hit them continuously and in four years they could scrape together enough to blow up a London bus and some subway trains....

There are many who accept without question the proposition that the US Armed forces are being 'bled dry' in Iraq; that it has become over extended... Yet the very same persons will vehemently reject the idea that Al Qaeda can also be spread thin; that its cadres are subject to death as wastage; it is as if one set of natural laws operated for the Jihad and another for the blundering Americans.