I’ve been mulling over a recent encounter with Phillip Bobbitt, now regarded as the Free World’s greatest anti-terrorist guru and author of his latest work “Terror and Consent The Wars for the Twenty-First Century. 672 pages. £25, Allen Lane.”
WW2, the Cold War, dealing with the IRA are all yesterday’s wars and give us few clues for dealing with present and future wars (and “wars” is what they are, he insists). The internet, a global world and science generally give terrorists access to the same WMD as nation states, which have become “market states”. National borders and existing international law are now anachronisms and obstacles to dealing with terror. Worrying overmuch about the causes of terrorism and bogeys such as al- Qaeda, Islam and Islamism is beside the point; when one group disappears, there will be others and we are in for a long war. ( where have we heard that before?)

Yet Bobbitt is no neo-con. He scorns Bush’s blundering into Iraq and Guantanamo as the wrong war and an evasion of law. We need a new strategy of pre-emption and new international laws – which would include in extremis the use of force to compel a terrorist to reveal the location of ” the ticking time bomb”. Wooly liberalism and George Bush are damned equally. Yet when with 42 days in mind I asked him : ” What would you have us do specifically?” Bobbitt ducked and replied shortly: “Read the book. I just want everyone to think.” Chairing the Royal Society of Arts meeting was columnist Simon Jenkins, who aimiably disagreed with every word Bobbitt said. Certainly Bobbitt deserves more than a knee-jerk reaction. Here are two of the best reviews of Bobbitt’s latest, on either side of the debate. Take your pick or think afresh!

Niall Ferguson New York Times

Simon Jenkins Sunday Times

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London