Amid the bombs directed against London's mass transit system, Prime Minster Tony Blair held fast, declaring that Great Britain would not be frightened out of "going about our business as normal, as we are entitled to do." His words reflected the courage the world has come to expect from Blair and also an understanding of what terrorism is and how it can be defeated.
There are four components to terrorism: it is violence against noncombatants conducted by a substate group for political objectives. Potential targets of terrorism can preempt some attacks and limit the damage from others by improving intelligence and law enforcement, protecting high-value targets such as dams and nuclear power facilities, and identifying early warning signs, including increasing religious fanaticism and escalating calls to violence.
But finally it is in the political arena where victory or defeat is determined. Why was London's underground transport selected for attack? Look back no further than March 11, 2004, when terrorists allied with al Qaeda struck trains entering Madrid's Atocha station, killing 191. Socialist Jose Luis Rodriques Zapatero, then in the closing days of a national campaign, instantly pledged to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq, an act of international cowardice that produced victory at the polls for him and a far more profound victory for the terrorists. Sixteen months later some fifty Brits would pay with their lives for those "victories." The Danes and Italians have been warned that they are next.
The key battleground in the confrontation with worldwide terrorism is Iraq, where two wars are being fought. The first, an insurgency waged by former Baathists, supporters of Saddam, and disaffected Sunnis, is fast failing as the Iraqis move toward economic recovery and a new, more inclusive political order. The second, a bloody terrorist campaign waged by international jihadists, targets civilians, military and police recruits, religious moderates, contractors, and diplomats. It has poor military prospects but is fueled by its own fanaticism and reinforced by those in the "crusader" community whose words reflect insensitivity to the political nature of the struggle.
When politicians pick this moment to demand a firm withdrawal date for U.S. forces or closing the Guantanamo holding facility, the terrorists have won a political battle. The same can be said when Western editors consider the desecration of five Korans (at least three of which were unintentional) during five years of war worthy of cover story treatment or when a militant Boston columnist places accidental civilian casualties on the same moral plane as the acts of calculated murder in London.
No one is demanding that free societies march in lockstep to the cadence of leaders but only that they reflect awareness of the nature of a conflict wherein the enemy's political call for change is transmitted through the slaughter of innocents. That his fellow heads of government in the Group of Eight stood behind Tony Blair was good. Had they decided to stand with him and the president in Iraq, terrorists everywhere would have felt the sting of political defeat.