Ever since Thursday evening we’ve been subjected to the usual flow of instant analysis and data, and as usual most of it has been wrong. Wrong, as always, in the details, from the number of bombs to the number of victims, and then wrong — or, at a minimum, unconvincing — about the "meaning" of it all. First came speculation that the terrorists were locals, buttressed by a leak from the British government asserting that al Qaeda was recruiting among university students in the United Kingdom. Or maybe not. Shortly thereafter, it seemed that the terrorists were foreigners who sneaked into the country in order to carry out the operation. This was similarly reinforced by stories claiming that the Brits were looking for the same terrorist who had planned the Madrid train bombings.
Inevitably, writers on a short deadline felt obliged to look for the greater significance of the killings in London. The usual suspects, led by the New York Times, blamed it all on Bush and Blair and their perverse willingness to fight back against our murderers. On the other hand, a small cottage industry has grown up around the theory that, bad as it was, the operation is actually good news because, just as the terrorists killed fewer people in Madrid than in New York and Washington, they killed fewer still in London. This was said to "mean" that al Qaeda’s capacity for violence was ebbing. The argument is simple: If al Qaeda could have done worse, they’d have done it. Since they didn’t, they probably couldn’t.
That may be right. But we really don’t know, and I don’t see the value in guessing about something so important. Suppose, as I fear, there is a more violent attack in Rome in the near future. What, if anything, would that prove? That there are more explosives in Italy than in England? It pays to be a bit more humble when analyzing fragments of information, and none of the analysts has spoken of the enormously important "luck" factor. There were reportedly at least two unexploded bombs in London, just as there were unexploded bombs in Madrid. Bad luck for the terrorists. There was a failed suicide mission in the skies over Pennsylvania on 9/11. Unlucky — the infidels fought back. There is also considerable reason to believe that al Qaeda did not anticipate that the assault against the Twin Towers would bring them down. That time they got lucky. Maybe they were unlucky in London. Or maybe, as Sunday reports suggest, there are further bombers waiting to act. Thursday’s event is too small a "sample" to permit us to generalize on the terror universe. And I’m afraid that those who are doing it are looking too hard at a single event, and not hard enough at the overall situation. Policemen are being beheaded in Thailand, Christian missionaries are kidnapped in the Philippines, some of our finest fighting men are being killed in Afghanistan, and bombs are going off again in Turkey.
There's also a lot of the usual stuff in the article but in these terms he hits it dead on.
He's also noted the Iran-Iraq military training programme, which has still received astonishingly little coverage, regardless of what conclusions one might draw from it.
I was in Harrogate yesterday and as I was walking past a rack of newspapers I had a look at some of the stories on offer. As far as I can tell, 50% of the press is running with "EXCLUSIVE!!!!!!!: London bombers homgrown!!!" and the other 50% is running with "EXCLUSIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!: London bombers were foreign terrorists!!!!"
Similarly, about half are describing the attack as devilish sophisticated and half are describing it as crude.