I really hate to, but I've just read over at Wired that we've killed at least 4,700 people via drone strikes. The figure comes from Sen. Lindsey Graham, who glibly admits that "Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that." "But," he adds, "we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida."
We are emphatically not at war with Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen. As for al-Qaeda, there is no such thing, as Peter Hitchens has pointed out here:
There is no such organisation. . . The spooks know this, Cabinet Ministers know this and so do the ‘security correspondents’ who so readily trot out the spooks’ point of view on our broadcasting networks.
Of course, there are terrorists, and there are also fantasists, fanatics, low-lifes and camp followers who plot and attempt horrible things. Some of them even call themselves ‘Al Qaeda’ these days because they have learned that this is a good way to scare us.
I am always baffled by people's willingness to believe in 'Al Qaeda'. This alleged organisation is supposedly everywhere, popping up in the Philippines one week, Spain the next, Bali the following month, Indonesia, Turkey and Iraq after that. These places are all deeply different and the connections between Islamists in them are tenuous and have never been proven. But it is also supposedly a tightly organised plot controlled by that bearded chap in the mountains.
I specially love the phrase 'all the hallmarks of al Qaeda' and wait for TV reporters to intone it at some point in any account of a terrorist outrage anywhere. The 'hallmarks of al Qaeda' are, apparently, that it is an outrage, and that it has been done by Muslim Jihadists. These are not actually hallmarks. It is like saying that having four wheels, an engine and a windscreen are 'all the hallmarks of a car’.
The truth, that there is now a global ideology of Islamic militancy, which doesn't require a central command, or training camps in Asia, or a man with a beard, is partly addressed in the new US intelligence report which also rather obviously admits that the Iraq invasion may have something to do with the current upsurge of militancy. These Washington experts are slowly getting there. Sooner or later they'll come up with a report saying that George Bush is no good as President, shortly after he's left office.
Once again, the interesting question is why people believe something that is plainly silly. In the case of the neo-conservative enthusiasts for the global 'War on Terror', I think it is because they are anxious to come up with an explanation for this conflict which does not involve Israel - when it is obvious to anyone who can see that Israel is the pivot of the whole argument. I think some PC people are worried about seeming anti-Muslim if they link the outrages with militant Islam. In the case of the spooks and the policemen, they need a bogeyman with which to frighten the public and justify their powers and their budgets. I just wish journalists would stop swallowing it whole.
Any popsicle-stand jidhadist can adopt the untrademarked al-Qaeda brand for himself, just as the current administration can justify any drone strike, however misguided, however destructive of civilian life, by waving the black and yellow flag.
Be skeptical, folks.