Press pundits and politicians, including most importantly our Prime Minister, continue to insist that putting our forces in Afghanistan will somehow protect us from terrorism. This notion assumes that al-Qaeda's notorious training camps have been instrumental to attacks on the West when in fact they have had little to do with them.
For example, the perpetrators of the most infamous attack of all, on the World Trade Center in New York, needed to know little more than how to fly airliners, and they learned that not in camps in Afghanistan but at flight schools in the United States. The Spanish authorities have now confirmed that the Madrid bombings had no connection at all to al-Qaeda. They were home-grown, as were the London bombings.
In any case, the people who carried out these atrocities, or those in BaIi and on the American embassies in East Africa, only needed to know how to build a bomb, and they could have gained that knowledge on the Internet. Indeed, that is apparently where the Madrid bombers learned their craft.
We cannot defend ourselves against these kinds of attacks with armies, navies, air forces, and missile defence shields. They can only be prevented by good police work, good intelligence, and good social policies. The importance of the latter was exemplified by the London bombings, executed by alienated youths from an ethnic community unsuccessfully integrated into the larger society. Armies cannot correct this problem, only good social infrastructure can. If we wish to protect our citizens from terrorist attacks, we should expend our resources on appropriate training for the police, on improved intelligence, and on developing healthy relationships between our various communities. Money spent on the military will mostly be wasted.
We might ask why we are in Afghanistan in the first place. We are there, of course, as part of NATO, but why is NATO there? Because in October, 2001, the United States presented evidence that Osama bin Laden, then ensconced in Afghanistan, was involved in the September 11 attacks. NATO's secretary general, George Robertson of the U.K., declared the evidence to be clear and decisive, thus justifying application of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which states that an attack against one is an attack against all, and armed force may be used to "restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area." The evidence presented to NATO was not made public.
This story sounds disturbingly familiar. In order to justify invading Iraq, the Americans presented evidence to the United Kingdom that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was also involved in the September 11 attacks. Tony Blair declared the evidence sound and justified an invasion. The "evidence" was, in fact, utterly false. Why, then, should we believe that the evidence presented to NATO regarding bin Laden's involvement was any better? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. …