Why Jeremy Corbyn has the best long-term plan for tackling terrorism on British soil

Corbyn opposed the ill-fated regime changes in Iraq and Libya. He questioned the justifications when it was unpopular to do so. He was right. He warned of the repercussions. He was right

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The Independent Online

Tragic terror attacks like that in Manchester, inspiring fear and anger, often drive voters to back the incumbent. It is ironic then that one of the essential long-term solutions to the terror threat lies within the foreign policy agenda articulated by leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. In articulating his international vision at Chatham House, Corbyn went on the front foot, laying out a comprehensive vision for Britain’s place in an insecure world.  Seeking to throw off the caricature-like branding of him as an ageing hippy, Corbyn’s approach evinced the rational thinking of a seasoned observer of global politics. 

Corbyn has been on the right side of history since he began his long political career, and his response to terrorism inspired by events in the Middle East is no different. Corbyn has been astute enough to realise the link between Western interventions in the Middle East and the terror threat emanating from the region. This is a link which is rarely discussed except in dismissive terms due to a form of right wing political correctness. As such, his approach targets some of the root factors driving terror ideology and facilitating the conditions under which terror spreads. It is also the most cost-effective method, important given the apparent lack of funds available for other policy areas like the NHS and the elderly.

Corbyn opposed the ill-fated regime changes in Iraq and Libya. He questioned the justifications when it was unpopular to do so. He was right. He warned of the repercussions. He was right. There is no longer any debate that both of these helped provide the space, motivation and chaos for extremist groups to thrive. Isis of course would not even exist if not for the Iraq War, and Al Qaeda would have less recruits. With regard to Libya, a 2016 report by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee stated that the intervention was based on “erroneous assumptions”, not on accurate intelligence.

In holding these views, Corbyn is in tune with the ‘intervention-fatigue’ and anti-regime change sentiment that has grown alongside the anti-establishment wave sweeping the West. This has been harnessed by those from the far right like Le Pen and the alt right, libertarians like Rand Paul, and other maverick left-leaners like Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Donald Trump himself used it as a club to beat opponents like Jeb Bush and Clinton. Corbyn even went close to joining the dots between the refugee crisis and interventions in the Middle East, something successfully exploited by Nigel Farage. Even some of the staunchest supporters of expansive anti-terror laws domestically oppose continued interventionism overseas. 

When addressing Chatham House, Corbyn clarified that questioning interventionism does not make him a “pacifist”, the vague but guffaw-triggering label studiously pinned on him by the mainstream media. Challenging the amnesia that pervades public debates over war, Corbyn provided a historical perspective including WWII, the Cold War, Vietnam, and the post-Cold War promise. Stating that military action, as a last resort and under international law, is sometimes necessary, he aligned with what most members of the public would consider reasonable, and what most countries officially support. The Labour Leader seems to understand that a multipronged approach is necessary to combat extremism, from military actions, to policing, to mental health services.

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Corbyn has also drawn attention to the double standards which undermine the West’s image around the world. His speech noted the inconsistency of Tory intervention enthusiasts given the party’s unwillingness to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa, a cause which Corbyn himself was arrested while fighting for. He has also identified situations of mass carnage, such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, where intervention could have been justified but which were ignored due to vested interests. Throughout his speech, Corbyn included anecdotes of his travel to some of the world’s worst conflict-zones, a subtle message that he’s not a social justice warrior snowflake but a man whose view is informed by seeing the real effects of war.

The Labour leader has promised an ethical foreign policy committing not only to consistently applying human rights (which already receive much attention), but also to addressing massive levels of inequality which should garner more focus. Targeted and working alongside other measures, this would enhance the West’s image and further weaken the drivers that enable terror groups to garner new recruits.

Corbyn has offered a sober, carefully considered approach to international security, free of the jingoism and political correctness that dominates this important policy area. Attacks at home show clearly that the status quo, spending millions on increasing security at home while spending billions on wars that spread insecurity overseas, is not working. Just like in economic policy, Corbyn’s non-interventionist approach may be lampooned by the mainstream media but is based on rational insights and values, and increasingly reflects the views of the population.

Dr Kadira Pethiyagoda is a Visiting Fellow and foreign policy expert. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University, a diplomat and advisor to parliamentarians

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