Britain has had a lucky escape — and so has Prime Minister Brown. Three failed Al Qaeda terror attacks since he succeeded Tony Blair last Wednesday have left the new government jittery, as security chiefs warn that further onslaughts may be imminent.
The accidental discovery of a car bomb outside a nightclub near Piccadilly Circus in the early hours of Friday alerted Scotland Yard and MI5 to a major new Al Qaeda plot to cause mayhem in Britain's capital. Hours later a second, almost identical car bomb was found and made safe.
On Saturday a two-man Al Qaeda team launched a suicide attack on Glasgow airport in Scotland, driving a burning Jeep into the passenger terminal. Both terrorists were captured alive. Two more suspects were arrested on the M6 freeway near Chester and another in Liverpool.
The terrorists' tactical aim was simply to kill as many people and cause as much disruption as possible. Even a failed attack on an airport provokes security measures that inconvenience passengers. Nightclubs are also a favorite Al Qaeda target, partly because Islamists regard them as immoral but mainly because large numbers of mainly young men and women are packed into a small space where a bomb can cause maximum carnage.
Their strategic purpose, however, is to intimidate the new British government of Gordon Brown into capitulating to their demands, above all the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. By spreading panic in Britain, Islamists would like to deprive the United States of its most reliable ally in the war on terror.
Mr. Brown's televised response was tough on Al Qaeda, but seemed to be intended to reassure "moderate" Muslims: "We've got to separate if you like those great moderate members of our community from a few extremists who wish to practise both violence and inflict maximum loss of life in the interests of a perversion of their religion."
For both personal and political reasons, Mr. Brown is eager to emerge from the shadow of his predecessor. He has surrounded himself with ministers who want him to dissociate himself from the Bush administration, such as John Denham, who resigned over the Iraq war, and Admiral Sir Alan West, who claimed it was illegal. And he has appointed Britain's first two Muslim junior ministers.
The trend is clear: to distance himself from Mr. Blair as fast as possible. But the car bombs in London and Glasgow are a reality check — a reminder that no government is immune to the threat of terrorism. Mr. Brown may not be so lucky next time. Will he accelerate the British withdrawal from Iraq in the (vain) hope that Al Qaeda will then leave Britain alone? Though he has ruled out an immediate pullout, his most senior colleagues are urging him to take just this course.
When the newly-appointed foreign secretary of Britian, David Miliband, arrived at the Foreign Office on Thursday, staff burst into applause. The enthusiasm of diplomats who generally side with Europe against America and the Arabs against Israel tells us a good deal about the direction they expect from Gordon Brown's new government.
Mr. Miliband led the opposition inside the Cabinet to Tony Blair during last year's Lebanon war, when the then prime minister refused to join the chorus of condemnation of Israel. There followed a "coup" which forced the prime minister to promise to resign a year earlier than he had intended. Mr. Miliband did not lift a finger to support Mr. Blair, and instead shifted his allegiance to Mr. Brown. He has been rewarded for being a turncoat.
Mr. Miliband's younger brother, Ed, is also a minister, indeed the prime minister's right-hand man — the first time two brothers have sat together in the Cabinet since Austen and Neville Chamberlain in the 1920s. The Miliband brothers have many differences, but common enemies: American neoconservatism and Zionism.
The brothers are often compared with their father, Ralph, a Jewish refugee from the Nazis and a leading Communist fellow-traveller. The sons were too ambitious not to abandon their father's Marxist creed. But in his previous post as environment secretary, Mr. Miliband showed by his zeal for draconian measures against global warming that he too could be an ideologue — and an anti-American one, too.
The long march through the institutions may extend across the generations, and has now taken both Milibands to the heart of the British machinery of government. Both are going to be around for a long time: at 41, David Miliband is the youngest foreign secretary for decades and must now be considered the heir apparent to Mr. Brown.
Gordon Brown's lack of interest in foreign affairs will give David Miliband an unusually free hand compared to his immediate predecessors. Mr. Blair was his own foreign secretary, but the post is now crucially important.
One of the few survivors from the Blair Cabinet was Des Browne, the defense secretary, who made Britain a laughing stock when Royal Navy sailors and marines were taken hostage by Iran.
Yet another of Gordon Brown's namesakes to be brought into the Cabinet is Mark Malloch Brown, the former deputy secretary general of the United Nations. Though not a full Cabinet minister, Mr. Malloch Brown will be entitled to attend Cabinet meetings in his capacity as a minister of state at the Foreign Office, with special responsibility for Africa, Asia, and the U.N. Already knighted by the Queen, he will now be elevated to the House of Lords to save him the trouble of election. (British ministers must be members of one or another chamber of Parliament.)
Mark Malloch Brown is notorious in America for his attack a year ago on the Bush administration for allowing "too much U.N.-bashing" by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. John Bolton, then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., declared that this was the "worst mistake by a senior U.N. official" he had ever seen.
This rebuke did not deter Mr. Malloch Brown from telling a World Bank audience that their mission was "hugely at risk" as long as their president was Paul Wolfowitz. The latter had led a campaign against corruption which alarmed Mr. Malloch Brown, the chief apologist for his boss Kofi Annan over the Oil for Food scandal, besides the waste and embezzlement of U.N. funds revealed by its auditors.
The Wolfowitz affair also distracted attention from Mr. Malloch Brown's own disgraceful record as head of the U.N. Development Program and especially from his own relationship with George Soros, with whose business and charitable empire his program had extensive dealings.
Mr. Malloch Brown was recently appointed vice-chairman both of Mr. Soros's hedge fund and of his Open Society charity. The luxurious upstate New York house in which he lives belongs to Mr. Soros. Of all Gordon Brown's ministerial appointments, this is the most bizarre. It is hard to see how Mr. Malloch Brown will survive as a minister, once the British press starts taking an interest in him.
What will be noted in Washington is Prime Minister Brown's promotion of a discredited U.N. official who is a bitter enemy, not only of President Bush, but also of the United States. This appointment does not augur well, either for the Anglo-American relationship or for future co-operation in the war on terror.