Jeremy Corbyn on foreign policy: why you should read it before commenting


May 29, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith


I am prepared to bet good money that many of the people who responded negatively to Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy speech on Friday last week had composed their response before reading his speech. I am prepared to bet equally good money that many who published or gave their response afterwards didn’t read it either.

Here is one such response – “Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault – and he has chosen to do that just a few days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities we have experienced in the United Kingdom. I want to make one thing very clear to Jeremy Corbyn, and it is that there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

That was Theresa May, and was almost definitely written for her by the same magnificent campaign team that is behind probably the least inspiring election campaigns ever. Whoever wrote it – maybe Nick Timothy or Fiona Hill, probably read the speech, but I imagine they assumed no-one else would, so they could say anything about it.

But I read it (click here to do so too), and I would like to acknowledge both the sense of what he said, and the naivety.

The key part of the speech is this:

“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, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism. Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security. Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform. And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre. But we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.”

Corbyn goes on to point out that the key is to focus the armed services, foreign office and international development efforts in a way that reduces conflict and fosters peace. The armed forces shouldn’t be sent somewhere if there isn’t a clear plan for the aftermath and resources to achieve a lasting peace. In the UK, the police will also have the resources to root out those planning to carry out terrorist acts, with ‘austerity stopping at the door to the police station’.

There is a huge amount of common sense in this. The biggest problems with the activities in Iraq and Libya is that they were done without a plan for establishing the peace. Removing leaders who may have been monstrous and murderous dictators is one thing, but not replacing the ‘stability’ they provided and not developing the institutions (civil service, independent judiciary and police force) needed to keep order was negligent at best. The fact that these military operations happened to be in Muslim countries have gifted those who seek to further the aims of Islamist terrorism a useful narrative.

Which is where the accusation of naivety must come in, and I think Corbyn addresses it, but could have been clearer. Islamist terror would be happening if the UK’s armed forces had never left its shores. Islamist terror wouldn’t stop if the foreign policy changed. The first major Islamist terror attack was in February 1993. Yes, 1993. The mastermind of that attack was Ramzi Yousef, who claimed it was to do with US support for Israel. This was a few months before Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn. There were additional attacks in 1998 at the US embassy in Kenya and in 2000 on the USS Cole. At the time the only foreign policy issues were the US and UK’s joint mission to rescue Muslims in the Balkans, although some former Islamists have claimed that came too late and would have come earlier if it weren’t Muslims that needed rescuing.

My point is that there is a narrative to justify anything, but the ultimate aim of Islamist terror is, remember to establish a Caliphate, an Islamic State, and ultimately this won’t stop until you or I are living as their version of Muslims. I say their version because let’s not forget that their version is very different from a massive majority of Muslims who live among us very peacefully.

Perhaps one day we will find out exactly what Salman Abedi’s justifications and reasons were for his actions. Despite his parents being granted refuge in the UK from Libyan oppression, Abedi decided that eight year old girls at an Ariana Grande concert had to die. Monstrous.

Talking of ‘monstrous’, that was the word used by Boris Johnson when he responded to a question about Corbyn’s speech. Johnson said it was monstrous that Corbyn should seek to subtract from the fundamental responsibility for the attack of the terrorist who committed it.  Which was a surprise, because in 2005, Johnson wrote the following – “Isn’t it possible that things like the Iraq war did not create the problem of murderous Islamic fundamentalists, though the war has unquestionably sharpened the resentments felt by such people in this country and given them a new pretext?” and “the Iraq war did not introduce the poison into our bloodstream but, yes, the war did help to potentiate that poison.”

Perhaps no moment sums up the chaos in the organisation of the Conservative Party right now than the interview with Michael Fallon that Krishnan Guru-Murthy conducted on Channel 4 (click here to see this). Fallon, as so often, was sent out to attack Corbyn, at which point Guru-Murthy read out to him parts of Boris Johnson’s 2005 speech without telling Fallon who said it. Fallon attacked the words, saying there must be ‘no excuses’, but then was rather surprised to be told they were the words of his Foreign Secretary. The problem for Fallon is that what Corbyn actually said (and again I wonder if Fallon even read his speech) is what Johnson has said, military figures, intelligence figures too, have been saying for years.

Just because it comes from Corbyn doesn’t make it suddenly wrong. Not a complete explanation, no, but not wrong either.

One thought on “Jeremy Corbyn on foreign policy: why you should read it before commenting

  1. Keith Chapman says:

    Again a well written balanced perspective on what Corbyn said – also all credit to Channel 4 and their interview


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