Monday, March 15, 2004

AFP Commissioner Soft on Terror?

That seems to be Mark Steyn's message in this opinion piece in today's Oz:

"THE bombs dropped on Baghdad exploded in Madrid!" declared one "peace" protester in Spain. Or as Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty put it, somewhat less vividly: "If this turns out to be Islamic extremists . . . it is more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq."

By "other allies", he means you – yes, you, reading this on the bus to work in Australia. You may not have supported the war, or ever voted for John Howard, but you're now a target. In other words, this is "blowback". This is what you get when you side with the swaggering Texas gunslinger and his neocon Zionist sidekicks.

It's a worry isn't it; there you are reading the Oz on your daily commute from Belgrave to Flinders St and, on the opinion pages of the jewel in the crown of Australian journalism, you discover that one of the nation's key police agencies is being run by some soft-headed loon who's prepared to go on national television and run that crazy "Islamic terrorism is all our fault" line. Well, it might be, if Steyn wasn't such a lazy bastard (sometimes, I'm a lazy bastard too, that's what makes it easy for me to recognise Steyn's lazy bastardry).

If Steyn had bothered to do a little more research - if for example, he'd obtained a video or transcript of Keelty's interview with Jana Wendt on the Sunday program - he might have spared himself the embarassment of trying to score points off Keelty. Early in the interview, Keelty spells out the police approach to the problem of terrorism:

JANA WENDT: So what conclusions are you drawing from what we now know about this attack?

MICK KEELTY: Well, I think the arrests early this morning indicate that some of the early predictions about who might have been involved are starting to shore up now in terms of Islamic extremism. But we have to let the investigation run its course, like we did in Bali. We have to let the evidence emerge from the investigation, and then make our determinations from there.

Because unlike, for example, intelligence agencies and others who quite properly make statements and make predictions about many of these things, the law enforcement role is to provide the evidence and use that evidence as fact.

I suppose Steyn might be counted here as one of those "others" and, unlike Steyn, for whom it might be quite proper to "make statements and make predictions", the AFP are constrained by the need to actually gather evidence before they go pointing the finger of blame or, as Steyn does in his article, speculating on the complete lack of intelligible motivation on the part of terrorists.

Keelty's "it's all our fault" statement comes later; here it is in full:

JANA WENDT: Well, Commissioner, that brings me to the question that most Australians are asking themselves. Could this happen here?

MICK KEELTY: Well, I think we've said all along this is an uphill battle. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The reality is, if this turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for this bombing in Spain, it's more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq. And I don't think anyone's been hiding the fact that we do believe that ultimately one day, whether it be in one month's time, one year's time, or ten years' time, something will happen.

And no one can guarantee it won't. And I think there's a level of honesty that has to exist here in terms of what the problems are here, not only in Australia but in our region.

But on the threat level, the threat level here in Australia hasn't changed. It still remains at medium. It has been at medium for some time for an attack on Australians in Australia.

Beyond the suggestion that the bombing in Madrid was linked to Spain's position on Iraq, what precisely is wrong with what Keelty has said? it strikes me as a reasoned and honest assessment of the situation; certainly more reasoned that Steyn's third riposte:

Commissioner Keelty is confusing old-school terrorism – blowing the legs off grannies as a means to an end – with the new: blowing the legs off grannies is the end.

Nothing Keelty has said, incidentally, is inconsistent with Steyn's belief on this score; it's quite possible that Keelty would agree with Steyn on this score - he might see the Iraq rationale as merely a convenient excuse for terrorists to blow the legs off grannies. This still leaves the possibility that terrorists are more likely to blow the legs off Australian grannies than, say, Venezualan grannies because in the latter case they would have to strain their intellects to come up with new excuses.

Steyn finishes with a lesson from history:

So the choice for pluralist democracies is simple: You can join Bush in taking the war to the terrorists, to their redoubts and sponsoring regimes. Despite the sneers that terrorism is a phenomenon and you can't wage war against a phenomenon, in fact you can – as the Royal Navy did very successfully against the malign phenomena of an earlier age, piracy and slavery.

Personally, I'd find the lesson a little more salutory if it weren't for the fact that both malign phenomena were fostered by the English in the first place; the first through privateering the second through various slaving companies set up under Royal charter. In both cases it took them a century or two to clean up their act.

Afterword: Bizarrely, Phil Ruddock was on AM this morning, arguing, like Steyn, that Keelty was wrong to link the Madrid bombing to Spain's involvement in Iraq. He even used one or two of Steyn's examples. Unlike Steyn, he was trying to hose down the threat.

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