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Middle East

It is hard to avoid the assessment that the most visible product to date of the war on terrorism has been nothing much more, or less, than more war and more terror. The unhappy reality since September 11 seems to be that all our major cities, and concentrations of Westerners anywhere, are as vulnerable as ever; the capacity of terrorist actors to do harm is as great as ever; their motivations are as great as ever; their identity is as elusive as ever; international cooperation is as fragile as ever; and international policy priorities are as misplaced as ever.

In Iraq, where the terrorist connection was the least plausible of all the reasons for going to war, terrorist violence has now become the most harrowing of all its consequences. The significance of Richard Clarke’s evidence to the September 11 Commission is not what the former anti-terrorism chief had to say, with all the wisdom that hindsight confers, about the failure of either Republican or Democrat administrations to take more effective action before September 11; rather, it is about the decision after September 11 to attack Iraq, a country that had about as much to do with it as Mexico, creating in the process the most expensive recruitment campaign for Islamist extremism ever launched.

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It has been raining all week, persistent drizzle unlike the brief downpours that are more typical of Beirut. The city is slumbering. I am staying with my parents. My father goes out less often. My mother is snuggled under the blankets. She hopes the war won’t happen. The kettle is boiling like a purring cat. The house is quiet. Rain is the soporific of cities.

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It may seem callous at a time when so much human life is being wasted to spare any concern for the destruction and dissipation of the archaeological collection in the National Museum at Kabul. Yet the loss in both cases is irreplaceable, and it may even be that the loss of the artefacts is, in the long run, qualitatively more important than the loss of individual human lives.

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