TCS Daily

The Logic of Pacifism

By Michael Totten - July 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Several commenters blamed the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, in one way or another, on regime-change in Iraq. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (Daily Kos) described the attacks as consequences of the war. Professor Juan Cole characterized them as blowback. Paul Reynolds at the BBC said they were Britain's punishment.

Only those who opposed the invasion of Iraq trot out this argument, though. Many of them either minimize or entirely ignore the fact that the invasion of Afghanistan and the toppling of the Taliban enraged Islamists as much if not even more so. The Taliban, after all, are fellow Islamists. The Baathists, from the point of view of Islamists, are socialists and infidels.

Now, if the London bombers were actually from Iraq then it would logically follow that the attacks were carried out in retaliation. But the bombers weren't from Iraq. They were from Leeds in Northern England. Granted, Britain's homegrown suicide-bombers could have been acting on behalf of the jihad in Iraq. But everyone knew already that Britain was on Al Qaeda's hit list before even Afghanistan was invaded, let alone Iraq. Islamists categorically hate Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, liberals, democrats, homosexuals, and feminists -- and there is no shortage of such people in Britain. But let's put that aside for the time being and focus specifically on the decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

It isn't possible to steer clear of Al Qaeda's wrath by fighting them in some places but not in other places. If British troops withdraw from Iraq, Britain will still be a target for retaliation or revenge because of the troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Redress only one of the grievances which enrage the suicide bombers and they'll get something for nothing.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that appeasing some of Al Qaeda's demands (those precious few that are actually appeasable) will at least put a given country lower down the hit list if not actually all the way off it. Okay then. Why not go as far as possible? If it's worth doing something to mollify Al Qaeda, then it's worth doing another thing to mollify them even more. If the whole point is to keep your head down, then keep your head down. Lowering your chin but not your forehead is not going to cut it.

It's real simple. If invading Iraq was a bad idea because it enraged Al Qaeda and handed them fodder for recruitment propaganda, then invading Afghanistan was likewise a bad idea because that, too, enraged Al Qaeda and handed them fodder for recruitment propaganda. If military action provokes retaliation, and retaliation must be avoided, then any and all military action must be avoided always and everywhere. Fighting the enemy anywhere at all will produce exactly the same result: they won't like it and will want to fight back. That always happens in war. Otherwise it wouldn't be war.

And we're still assuming (solely for the sake of argument) that Islamists only commit terrorism in retaliation, which is demonstrably false. Islamist terrorism has also exploded in Turkey, Argentina, Morocco, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Tunisia. Not only did none of those countries invade Afghanistan or Iraq, half of them are Muslim countries themselves.

Anyway, the logic that Britain or any other country should stay out of Iraq in order to duck Al Qaeda's crosshairs is the logic of pacifism. It makes no sense to use this logic selectively when picking and choosing which battleground is acceptable and which is not (Afghanistan yes, Iraq no) unless you're against fighting back categorically. No military action is acceptable to Al Qaeda. Any and all can provoke retaliation.

Those who argue this line of reasoning are going to have to go all the way with it or drop it entirely. They're either pacifists or they aren't. Military strikes against terrorists and their enablers should be eschewed in order to avoid retaliation or they should not be. Al Qaeda is not going to take any country off its enemy's list if it only withdraws from one of two combat fronts in the Terror War.

Those who think invading Afghanistan was wise and invading Iraq was a mistake can and will have pacifist logic thrown at them by others (like British MP George Galloway) who also opposed removing the Taliban. If you know how to argue with pacifist opponents of regime-change in Afghanistan, then you know how to argue with pacifist opponents of regime-change in Iraq.

Michael J. Totten is a TCS columnist. Visit his daily Web log at


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