Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Britain would have been safer with
Corbyn in charge
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May
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tirade against Jeremy Corbyn in The Sun on 26 April 2017, Foreign
Secretary Boris Johnson asserted that the Labour leader’s “ardent
anti-military stances actually mean ‘the consequences would be
calamitous’ if he ever gets the keys to No 10”.
And he went on
to say that the Labour Party leader would pose “an enormous threat to
our country if he gets into No 10”. Likewise, Defence Secretary
Michael Fallon told BBC Today listeners on 11 May 2017 that the Labour
leader “would be a very dangerous leader of our country” if he became
It is true that Jeremy Corbyn has a
spotless record of opposition to British military intervention abroad in
the 21st century – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – and he has
consistently voted against these interventions in the House of Commons.
By contrast, the Foreign Secretary has maintained, what might be called,
an ardent pro-military stance and backed all of them – and so has
Defence Secretary Fallon and Prime Minister May.
consequences of these military interventions have been disastrous for
the Greater Middle East. The region has been destabilised and an
environment created in which al-Qaeda linked groups, such as ISIS, have
flourished. Without the invasion and destruction of the Iraqi
state, ISIS would not have come into existence. In an
Vice News in March 2015, President Obama said:
“ISIS is a direct
outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an
example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim
before we shoot.”
In the appalling environment created by these
interventions, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and
millions more have been made into refugees. In March 2015,
Physicians for Social Responsibility published a
the various estimates of people killed in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 12
years after 9/11 during the so-called “war on terror”. They
estimate that “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1
million people in Iraq” and “220,000 in Afghanistan” (p15).
Wars of choice
There was no compelling reason
for Britain to participate in any of these military interventions.
All of them were wars of choice. None of them was undertaken in
self-defence in response to being attacked. None of them was
undertaken to counter a credible threat to Britain. Indeed, as we
will see, Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq greatly
increased the threat to Britain from al-Qaeda, as the intelligence
services warned in advance it would.
Britain would have been
safer if successive governments, beginning with Tony Blair’s in 2001,
had adopted Jeremy Corbyn’s “ardent anti-military” stance and kept its
troops at home.
179 British service personnel were killed in Iraq and
456 in Afghanistan
and thousands more have been injured, many with injuries that will be
with them for the rest of their lives. These casualties would have
been avoided if successive UK governments had refused to participate in
In his Chatham House
speech on 12 May 2017, Jeremy Corbyn said:
“The approach to
international security we have been using since the 1990s has simply not
worked. Regime change wars in Afghanistan Iraq, Libya, and Syria – and
Western interventions in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen – have failed in
their own terms, and made the world a more dangerous place.
“This is the fourth General Election in a row to be held while Britain
is at war and our armed forces are in action in the Middle East and
beyond. The fact is that the ‘war on terror’ which has driven these
interventions has failed. They have not increased our security at home –
just the opposite. And they have caused destabilisation and devastation
It is difficult to disagree with any of that. As
an MP, Jeremy Corbyn opposed all of these interventions. Prime
Minister May, Foreign Secretary Johnson and Defence Secretary Fallon
supported all of them and they haven’t shown any sign of recognising the
calamitous consequences that flowed from them. So, it would be
unwise to bet against a government headed by them engaging in similar
disastrous operations abroad, while it’s a sure fire bet that a
government headed by the “dangerous” Jeremy Corbyn would not.
A last resort - and only if authorised by the Security Council
Throughout his political life, Jeremy Corbyn has taken the view
that Britain should engage in military intervention abroad only if the
action is authorised by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN
Charter and even then only as a last resort. His stance is hardly
surprising since the use of force by a state in other circumstances
(apart from in self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter) amounts to
aggression, for which Nazi leaders were convicted and hanged at
If asked, British governments would claim to
apply the same principles but in practice they find ways of ignoring
them or of stretching them unmercifully. A prime example of the
latter was the Blair government’s assertion that the invasion of Iraq in
March 2003 (the purpose of which was supposed to be to disarm Iraq of
its “weapons of mass destruction”) was authorised by a Chapter VII
Security Council resolution passed in November 1990 for the entirely
different purpose of expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait. As a
veto-holding member of the Security Council, Britain can engage in this
kind of creative interpretation of Council resolutions without fear of a
word of criticism by the Council, let alone of appropriate punishment
for taking unauthorised military action.
The US/UK invasion of Afghanistan, which
began on 7 October 2001, wasn’t explicitly authorised by the Security
Council. How then did the Blair Government justify its
participation? Believe it or believe it not, the Government
claimed that the UK was exercising its right of self-defence under
51 of the UN Charter “following the terrorist outrage of 11
September, to avert the continuing threat of attacks from the same
source” (see House of Commons Library briefing
The legal basis for the invasion of Afghanistan, p4).
the UK hadn’t been attacked by Afghanistan or even by al-Qaeda which had
a base in Afghanistan at the time, it is difficult to see how it could
claim to be acting in self-defence. Be that as it may, as required
by Article 51, the UK notified the Security Council of its action,
saying that it was directed “against targets we know to be involved in
the operation of terror against the United States of America, the United
Kingdom and other countries around the world” (ibid).
what it’s worth, this argument relied on the UK being an al-Qaida target
prior to the attack – and Tony Blair went to great lengths to prove that
On 4 October 2001, a few days before the bombing of
Afghanistan began, the Government published a document entitled
Responsibility for the terrorist atrocities in the United States, 11
September 2001. At the time, I remember being puzzled when I
heard that the Government was about to publish a document about events
which took place on American soil. What business was it of the
The answer became clear on reading the
document. It has four conclusions. The first two are that
bin Laden and al-Qaida were responsible for the attacks and that they
are capable of mounting further attacks. The third is the reason
why the document was published: it is that “the United Kingdom, and
United Kingdom nationals are potential targets” for al-Qaida.
This was based on two statements by bin Laden (see paragraph 22 of the
document). First, the declaration of war against the US military
presence in Saudi Arabia from August 1996, which talks about the
“aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed” on the Muslim world “by the
Zionist-Crusader alliance and their collaborators”. Second, the
fatwa issued in February 1998, which calls on Muslims “to launch the
raid on Satan’s US troops and the devil’s supporters allying with them,
and to displace those who are behind them”.
On the basis of
these, the document concluded from this that:
targets are Al Qaida’s priority, it also explicitly threatens the United
States’ allies. References to ‘Zionist-Crusader alliance and their
collaborators’, and to ‘Satan’s US troops and the devil’s supporters
allying with them’ are references which unquestionably include the
United Kingdom.” (paragraph 24)
This was a doubtful conclusion
since the UK wasn’t mentioned explicitly in either of the two statements
– or in any other statement – by bin Laden.
Sometime later when
I looked up the document again, I discovered to my surprise that
paragraph 24 had been extended to include the following:
is confirmed by more specific references in a broadcast of 13 October,
during which Bin Laden's spokesman said: ‘Al Qaida declares that Bush Sr,
Bush Jr, Clinton, Blair and Sharon are the arch-criminals from among the
Zionists and Crusaders . . . Al Qaida stresses that the blood of those
killed will not go to waste, God willing, until we punish these
criminals . . . We also say and advise the Muslims in the United States
and Britain . . . not to travel by plane. We also advise them not to
live in high-rise buildings and towers’” (see amended report
Readers were not told that the explicit threat to Britain in this
amended paragraph was in response to Britain taking part in the bombing
of Afghanistan (which began on 7 October 2001) and would not have been
made if Britain had not taken part in the bombing of Afghanistan.
Now, Britain certainly was on al-Qaida’s target list – and the Blair
government used this to justify the military intervention that put it
The proposition that the UK had a right to attack
Afghanistan in self-defence is, to say the least of it, farfetched.
But, in any case, there was no compelling reason for the UK to
participate alongside the US. Tony Blair chose to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn was one of a handful of left wing Labour MPs, who along
with nationalist MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland opposed
Tony Blair didn’t allow the House of Commons a
say in the initial decision to participate, nor in the major deployment
of troops to Helmand province in 2006. The House of Commons was
finally allowed a say by David Cameron on 9 September 2010, when it
voted overwhelmingly (373 to 14) to “support the continued
deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan”. Jeremy Corbyn was
one of only 14 MPs who voted against.
Nearly 16 years after the
US/UK invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban regime there is no sign
of political arrangements being established that might allow the Afghan
people to live in something approaching peace. And, far from
countering a threat to Britain from al-Qaeda – which was the reason
given at the outset by Tony Blair and repeated by later Prime Ministers
– British participation helped generate a threat from al-Qaeda, a
process that was greatly accelerated by British participation in the
invasion of Iraq.
Today, around 500 British troops remain
in Afghanistan and their final withdrawal is not imminent. On 10
May 2017, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with Prime
Minister May and asked for more troops for Afghanistan.
The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 alongside the
US was another “war of choice” for Tony Blair. Iraq had not
attacked the UK, nor did it pose a credible threat to the UK.
Ostensibly, the objective of the invasion was to disarm Iraq of its
“weapons of mass destruction”. But the invasion on 19 March 2017
aborted a process of disarmament by inspection authorised by the
Security Council at a time when a majority in the Council (and the
inspectors themselves) wished the process to continue. As Sir John
Chilcot said in his
statement on 6 July 2016 when he launched his report:
UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for
disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a
Furthermore, despite heroic efforts by the
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to prove otherwise, the Security Council
never authorised the use of force to disarm Iraq of “weapons of mass
destruction”. So, Britain’s military action against Iraq
constituted aggression contrary to Article 2.4 of the UN Charter.
Jeremy Corbyn was one of the 149 MPs (mainly Labour and Liberal
voted against the invasion of Iraq on 18 March 2003. 412 MPs,
including Boris Johnson (and Michael Fallon and Theresa May) and most
other Conservative MPs voted for it. In the debate prior to the
vote, Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith gave Tony Blair completely
uncritical support in his determination to overthrow Saddam Hussein, as
he had done for the previous year and more.
spoke in the debate and said that his main reason for supporting the
invasion was that
“… the removal of Saddam Hussein will make the
world a better place, but, above all, it will make the world better for
the millions of Iraqis whom he oppresses”.
The future Foreign
Secretary could hardly have been more wrong: the human cost of the
invasion and occupation for the Iraqi people has been calamitous.
President Bush justified the invasion of Iraq on the basis of two false
premises (1) that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction” and (2)
that Saddam Hussein had connections with al-Qaeda and had a hand in
9/11. The awful irony is that the US/UK invasion and occupation
transformed Iraq from an al-Qaeda free zone into an area where al-Qaeda
flourished, so much so that a year after the invasion began George Bush
described it as “the central front in the war on terror”. You
couldn’t make it up.
Britain less safe
The British intelligence services warned in advance that military
action by Britain against Iraq “would increase the threat from Al Qaida
to the UK and to UK interests” (see Sir John Chilcot’s
statement at the launch of his report on 6 July 2016). That
warning, which Tony Blair kept from the British parliament and people,
came true in the years following the invasion – al-Qaeda activity in
Britain increased “substantially” because of the invasion of Iraq, so
much so that Tony Blair was persuaded to double the budget of MI5, the
UK’s domestic intelligence agency, in 2003.
evidence to that effect was given to the Chilcot inquiry on 20 July
2010 by Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was the Director General
of MI5 from October 2002 until April 2007.
Asked by one of the
“to what extent did the conflict in Iraq exacerbate the overall
threat that your Service and your fellow services were having to deal
with from international terrorism?”
in the years after the
conflict began in 2003. She replied: “Substantially” (p24-5).
She said there was hard evidence for this, for instance “numerical
evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of
people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of
people as to why they were involved, the discussions between them as to
what they were doing” (p34).
“The fact is
that the threat increased, was exacerbated by Iraq, and caused not only
my Service but many other services round the world to have to have a
major increase in resources to deal with it. In 2003, having had an
upgrade in resources after 9/11, which my predecessor agreed, and …
another one … in 2002, by 2003 I found it necessary to ask the Prime
Minister for a doubling of our budget. This is unheard of, it's
certainly unheard of today, but he and the Treasury and the Chancellor
accepted that because I was able to demonstrate the scale of the problem
that we were confronted by.” (p26-7)
So, there is no doubt that
al-Qaeda related activity in Britain increased “substantially” because
of Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq. This activity
included the London bombings of 7 July 2005, in which 52 people were
killed and more than 700 were injured.
If Britain had not
participated in that invasion, it is almost certain that such an upsurge
in al-Qaeda related activity in Britain, including the London bombings,
would not have occurred. Stating that is not a justification for
the London bombings or other al-Qaeda attacks. It is simply a
statement of fact.
Had Jeremy Corbyn’s “ardent anti-military”
stance been adopted by the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, there
would have been no British military casualties in Iraq and, most likely,
no civilian casualties in London on 7 July 2005.
Had Britain opted out of the interventions in
Afghanistan and Iraq, the US would probably have invaded, and
destabilised, these states without Britain’s help. However, had
David Cameron refused to back President Sarkozy in his ambition to
overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, the intervention in Libya wouldn’t have
happened. David Cameron backed President Sarkozy enthusiastically,
so Britain bears a heavy responsibility for the destabilisation of Libya
and the other consequences of the intervention.
Council did authorise military action in this case. On 17 March
2011, it passed resolution
1973 by 10 votes to 0, with Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia
abstaining. This resolution authorised military action “to protect
civilians and civilian populated areas” and banned flights by the Libyan
air force over Libya. It did not authorise military action to
overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, but that is how it was interpreted by Britain
and France, the key players in the intervention.
On 21 March
2011, two days after military action began, Prime Minister David Cameron
allowed the House of Commons to have a say in the matter. In the
assured MPs that the object of the intervention was not regime
change and MPs
voted overwhelmingly (557 to 13) in favour. Jeremy Corbyn was
one of the 13 who voted against.
A few weeks later on 15 April
2011, David Cameron signed a joint
with President Obama and President Sarkozy demanding that “Colonel
Gaddafi must go, and go for good”.
With NATO air support,
the armed opposition achieved that goal six months later and Colonel
Gaddafi was killed. The consequences for Libya and its people have
been dire: plagued with factional warfare, Libya quickly ceased to be a
functional state. ISIS and other terrorist groups have freedom to
operate. Weapons belonging to the Gaddafi regime have fuelled
terrorism and instability in other parts of North and West Africa.
38 tourists (30 of them British) were killed on a beach at Sousse in
Tunisia on 26 June 2015. Seifeddine Rezgui, the individual
responsible for the Sousse attack, was trained in Libya. That would not
have occurred had Colonel Gaddafi been left in power. The Tunisian
Prime Minister, Habib Essid,
told The Independent on 5 August 2015 that “the UK is partly to
blame for creating the violent chaos that allowed the extreme Islamist
movement to flourish in neighbouring Libya”. That cannot be
(For a comprehensive, and critical, appraisal of the
UK’s role in the intervention, see the House of Commons Foreign Affairs
Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK's future
policy options published in September 2016).
In April 2014, the Royal United Services Institute
(RUSI) published a study, Wars in Peace, on Britain’s military
interventions since the end of the Cold War. It
concluded that these interventions have cost an extra £34.7 billion
in defence spending. It suggests that a further £30 billion may
have to be spent on long-term veteran care.
Of the extra £34.7
billion, almost £10 billion was spent on operations in Iraq from 2003 to
2009 and almost £20 billion in Afghanistan from 2006 (when British
ground forces were deployed to Helmand province) to 2013.
The study concludes that these were "largely discretionary" operations,
that is, wars of choice that Britain could have refrained from taking
part in. Furthermore, RUSI judges these operations, and the air
operation in Libya in 2011, to be “strategic failures”.
example, on the Iraqi intervention, it says "there is no longer any
serious disagreement" over how the UK's role in the Iraq war helped to
increase the radicalisation of young Muslims in Britain and that “far
from reducing international terrorism … the 2003 invasion [of Iraq] had
the effect of promoting it”.