WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – The July 7 London bombings that killed more than 50 people have rekindled a familiar debate in this country on the question first posed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon: “Why do they hate us?”

As then, neo-conservative and right-wing hawks who led the drive to war in Iraq 18 months later are insisting that Islamist radicals hate the West and the United States for “what they are”–its freedoms and democracy and other Enlightenment ideals.

In their view, any reassessment of U.S. or Anglo-American strategy, let alone retreat from the “global war on terrorism” (GWOT) more generally, would amount to “appeasement” and thus prepare the ground for eventual defeat at the hands of the “Islamofascists.” If anything, the war should be expanded and intensified, according to these people, none of whom has ever worn a uniform.


“The terrorists don’t hate what we do as much as who we are, so there is no safe place to retreat to,” noted the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial on July 8, entitled “7/7/2005.” “And retreat from battling the Islamists in the Middle East would only make it easier for them to take the battle to us at home, as they did yesterday in London.”

“Now let’s hope (the West’s) leaders react with the resolve President Bush showed after 9/11, rather than retreat the way Spain did after the Madrid bombings last year,” it went on, a reference to the Mar. 11, 2003, train bombings that were widely credited with persuading Spanish voters, most of them anti-war, to replace Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a staunch Bush ally, with a Socialist government that quickly withdrew its troops from Iraq.

Poised against this is a contrary position that has been given somewhat more prominence in the mainstream media in the aftermath of the London bombings than at similar moments following the attacks on New York and Madrid.

“We’re being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live,” Michael Scheuer, a retired CIA officer who had led the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s, told CNN July 7.

That view has been bolstered by numerous public-opinion polls conducted in predominantly Muslim countries over the past several years that have consistently shown popular admiration for western political ideals, but widespread resentment over U.S. policies throughout the Middle East, particularly its alliance with Israel, its invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and its backing for autocratic regimes in the region.

As noted by the Pentagon’s own Defense Science Board just last fall, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states.”

Richard Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist and author of the book, “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” has also been arguing that al-Qaeda and those who identify with it are also driven by political goals.

Based on comprehensive data on the 462 consummated suicide-terrorist attacks carried out around the world between 1980 and early 2004–including those committed by non-religious groups, such as the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka and the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade in Palestine–Mr. Pape’s survey found that over 95 percent had as their “central objective” the eviction of foreign troops from occupied countries or regions that were considered by the terrorist groups itself to be occupied.

“Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism,” Mr. Pape told the July 18 edition of The American Conservative, “the use of heavy military force to transform societies over there … is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.”

Mr. Pape argues that, taking the war to the enemy, as called for by Pres. Bush and the hawks, serves only to recruit more suicide bombers into the ranks of al-Qaeda and its allies, as can be seen in the annual doubling of the number of suicide attacks carried out in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In an analysis of al-Qaeda and the communiques that preceded and took responsibility for the London bombings in salon.com on July 8, University of Michigan Middle East historian Juan Cole also stresses the blurring of Islamist and nationalist (in this case, Arab) motivations and concludes, like Mr. Pape, that the aggressive way that Pres. Bush has fought his GWOT has actually strengthened the enemy.

“The global anti-insurgency battle against al-Qaeda must be fought smarter if the West is to win,” according to Mr. Cole. “To criminal investigations and surveillance must be added a wiser set of foreign policies,” specifically, acting as “an honest broker in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … urgently finding a credible exit strategy from Iraq that can extricate the West from bin Laden’s fly trap.”

That these views are now being taken increasingly seriously here is clear, from the growing number of think tank conferences devoted to the question of an “exit strategy” and Congressional resolutions, a growing number of them with Republican sponsors, calling for Pres. Bush to establish a timetable for a U.S withdrawal.

To the hawks, however, all of this adds up to “appeasement,” particularly in the wake of the London blasts. That view was echoed all over the National Review Online, a publication that often voices the views of the most hawkish neo-conservative and far-right sectors within the administration.

Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, wrote that the bombings served to refocus the attention of the Group of Eight (G8) leaders at Gleneagles, Scotland, on the dangers posed by “Islamofascism,” instead of their original agenda of debt relief, aid to Africa, and global warming that are “a distraction… we cannot afford at the moment.”