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The London Blasts

 

The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY ELEVEN: Monday 18 July 2005

The Chatham House Report: Establishment Realism

 

INTRODUCTION

 

For those visiting for the first time, the background to the comments that follow lie in our priority page, and in our first Media Review. The facts contained in those pages are assumed in what follows.

 

 

The Chatham House Report

 

There is only one big story today regarding the bombings. The report released today by the Royal Institute for International Affairs, known as 'Chatham House'.

 

There is the analysis itself, and then there is the question of how it has been handled by the media. Here we discuss mainly the latter, rather than the merits of the report itself. (The report is available as a 900kb pdf download directly from the Chatham House home page.)

 

SUMMARY OF COVERAGE

 

The Guardian, predictably, makes the report the front page lead: 'Tube bombs "linked to Iraq conflict", but detail is lacking and the story has been watered down.

 

The Telegraph also puts the report on the front page, though below the fold: 'Terror "is the price we paid for going to war". Overall, this is the best story on the report.

 

The FT has a single column piece on page 2: 'Iraq war support "harming fight on terror" '. Online, this story is placed fourth in a list of today's stories on the London bombings. A reasonable, though low-key version.

 

The Times masks the impact of the report by placing it on the inside pages, and giving it a misleading headline (though one that accurately records part of the report): 'MI5 "was looking for the wrong kind of terrorists" '. A poor description of the report, with a disastrously misleading headline.

Bizarrely, the Independent has no coverage whatsoever of the report in the paper version of today's newspaper (at least the edition we have). Online there is a story about it by Andrew Grice, the Independent's Political Editor, but in our paper edition, on page 8 he has instead a story entitled, 'Tories back use of phone taps to trap terrorists.' (The paper version of the Independent leads with the death of former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, which occupies completely the first three pages of the newspaper.) The online story is reasonably accurate.

Interestingly, in Chatham House's own round-up of media coverage, they don't include the online Independent article, or the misleadingly-titled Times article.

 

None of the newspapers surveyed mention the warning given to Tony Blair by British intelligence before about the invasion of Iraq, of the 'heightened' risk of terrorism that the war would cause. (See final section of the first Media Review.)

 

CRUCIAL CONCLUSIONS

 

The most important sections of the report (written by Frank Gregory and Paul Wilkinson) runs thus:

 

'The UK is at particular risk [from al Qaeda] because it is the closest ally of the United States, has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns to topple the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and has taken a leading role in international intelligence, police and judicial cooperation against Al-Qaeda and in efforts to suppress its finances.' (Quote 1)

'A key problem with regard to implementing ‘Prevention’ [of al Qaeda-style terrorism] and ‘Pursuit’ [of such terrorists] is that the UK government has been conducting counter-terrorism policy ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat.' (Quote 4)

'There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism.' (Quote 2)

'It gave a boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, and deflected resources and assistance that could have been deployed to assist the Karzai government and to bring bin Laden to justice.'

'Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.' (Quote 3)

 

(Emphasis has been added to these phrases by JNV.)

 

THE FOUR QUOTES

 

We have labelled the four most important phrases in the report, in order of significance to the current crisis.

 

(Quote 1) 'The UK is at particular risk [from al Qaeda] because it is the closest ally of the United States, has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns to topple the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and in Iraq...

(Quote 2) 'There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK...

(Quote 3) 'Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.'

(Quote 4) 'A key problem with regard to implementing ‘Prevention’ [of al Qaeda-style terrorism] and ‘Pursuit’ [of such terrorists] is that the UK government has been conducting counter-terrorism policy ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat.'

 

Just to be clear about what is meant by 'prevention' and 'pursuit' (which have technical meanings), here are their official definitions:

 

1. Prevention – addressing underlying causes of terrorism here and overseas. That means, among other things, ensuring that Muslim citizens enjoy the full protection of the law and are able to participate to the full in British society.

2. Pursuit – using intelligence effectively to disrupt and apprehend the terrorists.

 

A SUBTLE BALANCE

 

Note that in Quote 3, when talking about the 'cost in lives' of British policy, the report says that this cost is both civilian and military in relation to Iraq, but is described as only 'military' in relation to Britain and the US.

 

In other words, the authors are consciously avoiding the explicit statement that the British civilian deaths caused by the London bombings (or by other terrorist attacks that have claimed British civilian lives) are 'costs' of British subservience to the US "war on terror". They are neither denying nor affirming that the London bombings were linked with the war on Iraq.

 

On the other hand, the report says that the war in Iraq has imposed 'particular difficulties for the UK' (as well as the wider US-led 'coalition'), these difficulties concern Britain's capacity to 'prevent' or disrupt terrorist attacks, and that Britain's involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have helped to put Britain at 'particular risk' of attack by al Qaeda and its affiliates.

 

In other words, the London bombings would have been less likely to take place if Britain had not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, if Britain had not been so close to the US in the "war on terror", and if the British government had been an equal decision-maker rather than a helpless 'pillion passenger' in the formulation of policy.

 

REPORTING OF CRUCIAL SECTION

 

How has the press done in terms of relaying these four critical phrases?

 

The FT puts Quote 2 (realism about the link between anti-British terrorism and the war in Iraq) in its first paragraph, correctly emphasising that the 'cost' identified in the report is to Britain's 'Prevention' of terrorism, and 'Pursuit' of terrorists:

 

Tony Blair’s positioning of Britain as a “pillion passenger” to the US war on terror is proving a key problem in preventing terrorism in Britain, a respected think-tank will today warn. The Royal Institute of International Affairs will also claim there is “no doubt” the war on Iraq has imposed “particular difficulties” for the UK’s counter-terrorism efforts.

 

Jean Eaglesham, Political Correspondent for the FT, implies that the report connects the "war on terror" to the London bombings, but does not give Quote 1 to support her analysis:

 

'The report, which was commissioned long before the London bombings, is a setback for the prime minister, who has insisted the attacks had no direct connection with Britain’s support for the US over Iraq and Afghanistan.'

 

 

The Telegraph (on its front page) quite rightly says,

 

'The authors do not directly link the war and the suicide attacks, which are now known to have killed 55 people. But their conclusions are likely to intensify the debate about whether the killings could have been avoided.'

 

All of the material we quote above is reproduced in full on the front page, including Quote 1. The Telegraph notes that while Downing Street dismissed Charles Kennedy (leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats) when he connected Iraq to the bombings,

 

'However, the Prime Minister and his supporters will find it hard to dismiss today's report. The Royal Institute of International Affairs, which also goes under the name of Chatham House, is respected throughout the world and is politically unbiased.'

 

 

The Guardian gives this gloss on the report:

 

Britain's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to the terrorist attacks in London, a respected independent thinktank on foreign affairs, the Chatham House organisation, says today.

According to the body, which includes leading academics and former civil servants among its members, the key problem in the UK for preventing terrorism is that the country is "riding as a pillion passenger with the United States in the war against terror"...

In the most politically sensitive finding, Chatham House, which used to be known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, concludes there is "no doubt" the invasion of Iraq has "given a boost to the al-Qaida network" in "propaganda, recruitment and fundraising", while providing an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists. "Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign."

 

So, a slight overstatement of Quote 1 in the first paragraph (without quoting it), Quote 4 in a truncated form, Quote 2 in a watered-down form, and Quote 3 in full.

 

Describing Quote 2 as 'the most politically sensitive finding' is somewhat inaccurate. What about Quote 1?

 

'The UK is at particular risk [from al Qaeda] because it is the closest ally of the United States, has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns to topple the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and has taken a leading role in international intelligence, police and judicial cooperation against Al-Qaeda and in efforts to suppress its finances.'

 

 

The Times is rather careless in referring to 'British lives' being lost rather than 'British military lives':

 

British lives have also been lost because UK foreign policy was seen as “riding pillion” with the United States, according to the report, part of a five-year research programme which was near completion by the time of the London bombings.

It concluded that the war in Iraq split the international community’s response to terror while providing a recruitment, fundraising and propaganda tool for al-Qaeda.

The report seemed to give support to the claims of Clare Short, the former International Development Secretary, and others that the war in Iraq was partly to blame for the London bombings.

 

In the article as a whole, quotes 2, 3 and 4 are reproduced - though as can be seen, Quote 2 is rather truncated and misses out the 'particular difficulties' imposed on Britain.

 

So Quote 1 is missing again.

 

 

Turning from paper to the online edition of the Independent, we find quotes 1, 2 and 3.

 

The Royal Institute of International Affairs, known as Chatham House, said that Britain's support for the US did not mean it was an equal partner but a "pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat". [Quote 3]

The think-tank concluded that "the UK is at particular risk because it is the closest ally of the United States, has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns ... in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and has taken a leading role in international intelligence, police and judicial co-operation against al-Qa'ida and in efforts to suppress its finances," it said. [Quote 1]

Chatham House warned that Iraq had created difficulties for the UK and the coalition. [Quote 2] "It gave a boost to the al-Qa'ida network's propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for al-Qa'ida-linked terrorists, and deflected resources that could have been deployed to assist the Karzai government [in Afghanistan] and bring Bin Laden to justice," it said.

 

CONCLUSION

 

In summary, and not for the first time, the best reporting is in the Telegraph. In terms of placing, length, detail of quotation, and overall accuracy, the right-wing newspaper of the Armed Forces is head and shoulders above the other paper editions, and even better than the online version posted by the Independent.

 

The general impression is that the Chatham House report has received poor treatment in today's newspapers, and is likely to be effectively buried within days (though with a little bit more longevity than the Young Muslims and Extremism report).

 

Significantly, the report has not received the framework of analysis that it requires, either in terms of the foreign policy roots of British Muslim disaffection, what we know about the motivations of the four bombers, the limited and widely popular foreign policy goals of al Qaeda, and the warnings given to Tony Blair before the war by British intelligence and by figures across the political spectrum - and even by retired military officers.

 

Without such a framework of analysis (a larger topic than we can deal with here), the report is a speck of realism, soon to be drowned in a tide of undigested government propaganda.

JNV welcomes feedback.

 

This page last updated 18 July 2005

 

 

 

   

 


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