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Foreign Intervention And The UK General Election – OpEd


By Eyad Abu Shakra*

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn provoked a storm of criticism when he said of the Manchester suicide bombing: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.”

The terrorist atrocity committed by Libyan-born Briton Salman Abedi was linked to the US bombing of Syria. It is interesting that it is specifically linked to the US — and British, under the anti-Daesh coalition – attacks against Daesh-held territories in Syria.

This may call the attention of serious analysts to several issues, although people such as Abedi — who murdered 22 innocent people and injured many others while attending a concert — are nothing but brainwashed killing machines.

One issue is related to the aforementioned “justifications” for the atrocity. US-led coalition attacks started quite late in the Syrian war, many years after the Assad regime’s attacks on civilians, then the direct involvement of Iran’s sectarian militias backing the regime, and later Russia’s joining the war against the Syrian people.

It is a well-known fact that Russia’s air force has played a decisive part during the last three years in turning the tide of the war in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s favor. It has provided him with much-needed air cover to systematically destroy cities and carry out sectarian cleansing and population exchange.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, Washington — so keen to befriend Iran — refused to intervene militarily in Syria, encouraging Damascus and Tehran to escalate the war using all kinds of weapons, including chemical ones.

Another issue concerns the concept of intervention. This term on its own does not reflect a comprehensive political vision. It is impossible to morally justify intervention in a stable country governed by broad-based political, social and institutional consensus. But it is morally and politically right to prevent the escalation of a war in which a dictatorship kills its own people, as we have been witnessing in Syria and Yemen.

It is wrong to intervene with the intention of regime-change without having a plan for the day after, and a viable and legitimate alternative. When the 2003 Iraq war was met with wide Arab and international opposition, those opposing the war did not do so because they were admirers of Saddam Hussein and his regime, but because Washington and London had no plan to fill the power vacuum and avoid the post-Saddam chaos in Iraq. Because of that, Iraq was handed to Iran on a platter.

Still, the most preposterous understanding of intervention must be reserved for Obama’s handling of Syria. He and his associates kept justifying their refusal to defend the Syrian people and deter its murderers by pathetically repeating the claim that the intervention in Iraq made matters worse. This shameful, destructive inaction created the Daesh phenomenon as a global problem.

Corbyn is following Obama’s footsteps by last week making the connection between wars the UK supported or fought in other countries, and terrorism on British soil. The Labour leader does not seem interested in the details of these wars, who caused them, who are benefitting from them or the realities they seek to impose.

Corbyn, who rightly opposed the 2003 Iraq war, today ignores the fact that that war brought about an explosive regional reality that all those who opposed it must realize. They need to understand how Iranian extremism has provoked an opposite extremist reaction, and that Tehran is exploiting this reaction to cut deals and make international alliances that would nurture it for years and decades to come.

The third issue is that the current Labour leadership has been too consistently loyal to its opposition to foreign adventures. Like some Labour leaderships before it, it has been too dogmatic and simplistic regarding international affairs, as well as being sometimes childishly anti-Washington. This makes it easy prey to slogans of “progress” and “liberation” uttered by fake nationalists and their mouthpieces. The Labour left has always been idealistic, and quite often naive.

During the thick of the Cold War, the Labour left won control of the party’s leadership, with clear-cut radical leftist political positions bearing all the fingerprints of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) — of which the new leader Michael Foot was an active member — as well as a radical economic agenda.

The left’s ascendancy led the leaders of centrist Labour right to break away with their supporters and found the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. This party merged later with the Liberal Party to form the current Liberal Democratic Party.

In 1983, as the leftist Labour leadership announced its radical electoral manifesto, the late Labour wise man Gerald Kaufman described it as “the longest suicide note in history.” He was right, as Labour was trounced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, paving the way for uninterrupted Conservative rule until 1997.

In the early 1980s, Corbyn and some of his associates were young firebrands and spiritual sons and daughters of Foot and his fellow leftist luminary Tony Benn. But while many of them matured and moderated their outlooks, including Benn’s son Hilary — a former Cabinet minister — Corbyn remained an unrepentant radical.

Today, he practically supports Iran and Assad because he believes they are confronting US influence and conspiracies. This is why he promised a change in British foreign policy if Labour wins on June 8.

The fourth issue concerns an anxious period Western societies are going through. Many givens and constants have fallen, causing astounding electoral surprises. Thus it would be ironic if the problems of the Middle East and the Muslim world shape the future of cultural coexistence and democracy in the West.


Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.

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Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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