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July 8, 2005



PAUL GIGOT: Welcome to THE JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT. The bombings in London were deadly, well-coordinated, and apparently well-timed to coincide with the G8 meeting of world leaders in Scotland. This latest terrorist outrage provokes familiar questions about how it was done, how well-defended we are, and what it means for the future. With me to discuss all this are: Dan Henninger, columnist and deputy editor of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL editorial page; Kim Strassel, a senior writer for the editorial pages who has reported from London; and Bret Stephens, a member of the editorial board who has reported extensively from Israel and the Middle East, where terror bombings are not so unusual.

Dan, British foreign secretary Jack Straw says that these attacks bore all the hallmarks of Al Qaeda. Combined with the Madrid attacks last year, does this event in London mean that Europe is now the new front on the war on terror?

DAN HENNINGER: Well Paul, I think Europe has been a front in the war on terror since at least 1972, the Munich Olympics. They've experienced terrorist incidents continuously since then. Spain has fought for years with the Basque Separatists, England has had to contend with the Irish Republican Army. Now we have a situation in which many of these countries -- Spain, Germany, France -- have large Muslim populations within their borders. Now most of them are hard-working people. They contribute to the economies there. But they do create the wherewithal for terrorists to create networks around the European continent, both financially and in terms of travel and recruitment. And it is not obvious that Europe has got to combine and coalesce to suppress those networks.

PAUL GIGOT: What about this question of the Muslim populations in Europe? They're larger than they are in America, certainly, as a share of the population. But are they also different in kind in the sense of being more easily recruited by Islamic radicals?

KIM STRASSEL: Well the bigger problem is, as Dan said, they're very huge. And most of them, many of them are actually well-integrated into European society. But there are radical elements, and to the extent that they can hide within these bigger communities it makes them hard to find. Europe also faces a very difficult question of how do you actually go about finding these people without creating a backlash against these bigger communities. They've had a lot of tension about that in recent years. Head scarves in schools in France, and so on. And so they're going to have to approach this very carefully, but they're going to have to do it.

BRET STEPHENS: Well, there's another difference, too, between Europe and the U.S. In the U.S. you have Muslim populations that are essentially upwardly mobile immigrant societies. In Europe you've had effectively zero growth or one percent growth now for several, for many years, and a lot of Muslim communities aren't simply -- they're not integrating culturally but they're also not really integrating economically. And so in places like -- in the suburbs of Paris and Marseilles and in Germany and Spain you have these sort of suburban ghetto communities of largely Muslim populations. They don't have jobs, and they're breeding grounds for extremism and for terrorism.

PAUL GIGOT: What about the cooperation between the U.S. and Europe, European governments, on terrorism? Behind the scenes that's been happening, particularly with intelligence agencies. Is this going to make it more overt in terms of such policy decisions as NATO deployments in Afghanistan or Iraq?

BRET STEPHENS: Well, you're absolutely right that behind the scenes, the FBI, the CIA have excellent cooperation with the French, with the Germans, with the British, with the Spanish. It's at the political level where there's been a lot of difficulty. And I think the Europeans have tried to play a sort of a double game, in some cases coming down very hard on terror, terror cells, terrorist elements in their communities, but adopting a very different stance politically -- trying to make gestures towards the Palestinian cause, opposing the United States over the war in Iraq, negotiating with the Iranians -- hoping that a combination of appeasement abroad and toughness at home will work. I wonder if that's going to continue after what just happened.

DAN HENNINGER: Just as a footnote to Bret's point -- you had that remarkable photograph yesterday of the G8 leadership standing literally shoulder to shoulder with Tony Blair. Well, was that just a photo op? Or is it going to be real? Is the public gesture of opposition to terror going to be as Bret describes? Or are they going to go back to the same old double game?

PAUL GIGOT: Well what's going to be the impact of this on the U.S. political debate? We've been having fights over things like the Patriot Act, for example, and it's renewing that. We've had fights over Guantanamo. There's some major political figures in this country -- Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware, Democrat; Jimmy Carter, the former president, a lot of leading people in newspapers -- want to close down Guantanamo. What's going to be the effect of this event, Dan, on those debates?

DAN HENNINGER: My guess would be that the Guantanamo debate will recede some. I mean, Guantanamo is best seen as a metaphor for the war on terror. I mean, the idea that you can treat prisoners down there -- the vast majority of which came out of the war in Afghanistan, they were Taliban fighters -- and the idea that you can treat them as you do anybody else you pick up on the streets of the United States, given what happened on 9/11, given what happened in London this week, seems implausible. It reflects a certain degree of unseriousness about the war on terror. And I think that after London there'll be a much more level of seriousness in the American debate about this.

KIM STRASSEL: Well you have to hope, too. I mean, what you hope is that Americans can make the connection between what happened in London and what we're doing here on the ground with the Patriot Act. We may not see as many sort of big profile terrorist acts, like flying airplanes into buildings. You're going to have one, two people setting bombs off. They may well try it in this country. But what you need is the Patriot Act. This is why we're going to be searching for smaller and smaller targets, and those are the tools that allow us to do it.

PAUL GIGOT: What about the argument, Bret -- and we're going to hear it again -- that the Iraq war has become recruiting and training ground for Al Qaeda, has made it in fact stronger than it would have been had we not gone into Iraq? How do you respond to that?

BRET STEPHENS: I don't think that's a very good argument. First of all, Al Qaeda is -- or rather Iraq -- is sucking up Al Qaeda's energy. You know, we have this idea that somehow you can produce a sort of infinite number of terrorists. It's not true. There's a limited base of people who are actually attracted to becoming suicide bombers, who are attracted to Jihad. And many of them are going into Iraq. And in fact, Osama bin Laden himself has said Iraq is now the central front in this particular war. If they weren't in Iraq, we would be seeing many more terrorist attacks elsewhere. And one of the great surprises, as everyone was commenting in Britain, is we're amazed it hasn't come sooner. And, one might add that it wasn't a larger event. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we're fighting them over there more so than we're fighting them on our streets at home.

PAUL GIGOT: Bret, we don't have a lot of time, only about 30 seconds. But is -- four years later, after 9/11, is Al Qaeda do you think stronger or weaker than it was before?

BRET STEPHENS: Well, I think it's weaker. And I think this bombing shows it. And it shows because, unlike 9/11, which was of course a sort of terrorist spectacular using planes and high profile targets, or unlike 3/11, the Madrid bombings in which it was really a mass casualty event, this is, as far as terrorist operations go, this is a very crude operation. It involves placing four relatively small bombs under commuter seats. This could have happened everywhere. Al Qaeda's style has always been to go for these mass casualty events, these things that have a sort of signature style. This was, as far as Al Qaeda goes, I would argue a failure as a terrorist attack, although the toll of course is already too much.

PAUL GIGOT: Right. And one other point I'd make is that Al Qaeda is on the defensive in the Middle East on the ideological front. That is, with the campaign for democracy and reform in some of these major Middle Eastern countries, Al Qaeda has a competitor finally for some of the frustrations that a lot of the populations there have. And that might in the long run be the most important argument and defense of all. All right, thanks. Next subject.