Via TPM and Steve Benen posting at Political Animal comes the most accurate assessment I've seen yet from an expert talking about the failed UK attacks over the weekend. Former Scotland Yard Detective John O'Connor, who used to command the elite "Flying Squad", told CNN today:
"I think that rather than using the all-embracing term of 'al Qaeda,' I think that you should be using the term 'jihadists,' which I think makes more sense. Because, though they may share common purposes with al Qaeda, I don't think that al Qaeda has the control to operate something like this. They could operate a major terrorist outrage, but I think it would be more professionally run. I mean this was a hopeless, incompetent terrorist attack.Meanwhile, Northman has an excellent set of musings on what motives the wannabe-terrorists might have had for their abortive attempts.
"When you see the ludicrous situation where none of the bombs were able to be detonated and these guys are trying to set fire to petrol, when all they did, they didn't get a detonation at the doors of the airport lounge; all they got was a bomb fire.
"They set fire to fuel. Well, that in its own way, is not going to detonate the gas cylinders and it's not going to cause an explosion. It was just a fire. I mean, that is so incompetent as to be almost laughable."
So why attack Glasgow and Scotland, where Muslims are much better integrated than in England? I've read that it was because Gordon Brown is a Scotsman, but I think it was also an attempt to drive a wedge between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities there. Provoke some anti-Muslim backlash against the local Muslim community, who apparently weren't even involved, in the hopes of isolating them and making them more susceptible to jihadist recruitment.Northman's correct, of course, in that one of the major determinants of how successful a terror attack has been is what those attacked do next. If they cream, shout, crack down on those who fit a very generic "profile" and generally act like the terrorists have won a watch, then the terrorists have won a watch - even if the bombs themselves fizzled. In that, at least, the Brits have more consistently gotten it right than their compatriots across the pond.
...Even if Brown wanted to withdraw from Iraq, he can't make that announcement now unless he has the kind of courage that's incredibly rare in a politician. He's stuck with continuing British involvement in Iraq for at least another six months to a year, and there's been no greater recruitment tool for the jihadists than that very involvement.
Add to that any actions he takes that can be perceived as targeting British Muslims, and the jihadists win the increased support they need to pose an ever more serious threat. In that, the failure of these attacks should work to Brown's advantage. Without any massive death or destruction, the need for vengeance or payback is muted. It gives him the chance to respond in an intelligent fashion without any impetus to the hysterical voices clamouring for counterproductive, short-sighted foolishness.
One of the most difficult things to realize about 4th generation warfare, is that the physical level of fighting; the bombs and missiles, the IED's and suicide attackers, isn't where the war gets decided. The really important battles are waged at the moral level on the stage of policies and politics.
Update In a highly significant bit of approval, Rupert Murdoch's London Times hands the task of appraising Brown's performance to veteran former editor and pundit Peter Riddell, who pronounces that Brown has passed his first test with flying colours.
His appearances so far have been impressive, reinforcing his image as a strong, national leader. But his style is significantly different from that of his predecessor. After the great intuitive actor-manager, we now have the anxious headmaster. Mr Brown is not smooth. There are no memorable phrases. Rather, he is the concerned voice of authority, keen to reassure the public, and not to be hurried, or panicked, into emergency action.
In marked contrast to the desire of Mr Blair and John Reid, the former Home Secretary, to use such incidents to press for draconian powers, Mr Brown has adopted a calmer tone. His immediate aim is national unity and alertness. Questions such as extending the present 30-day detention period and creating new police powers to question suspects after they have been charged should be left until later, and subject to full parliamentary debate.
This lower-key, consensual style chimes with the public mood. It is not the start he planned, or wanted, but it does enable him to dominate the news agenda.
...So while the public image is all of change, the reality is more familiar — of a renewed, and acute, terrorist threat. There may be a Brown bounce in the polls. But there is no Brown honeymoon. Rather, he is being severely tested from the start. So far, he is standing up well.