What Corbyn got wrong in his speech on terrorism
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On October 7th 2001, George W. Bush declared war on an abstract noun. In fact, and to no one’s surprise I’m sure, he was entirely wrong; he should not have declared a new War on Terror, for that war was already begun. 2001 marked the bicentenary of its declaration. May 1st, 1801 saw the first deployment of the armed forces of the United States against a foreign adversary. It also marked the first intervention by the United States in the Near East and North Africa, and the first confrontation with those who cited the Koran to excuse their actions. These conflicts, collectively known as the Barbary Wars, were an act of self-defence by the United States. Between 1530 and 1780 some 1.5 million Europeans and Americans had been taken as slaves by Corsair raiders from the Barbary States, those quasi-Sultanates with territories now covered by Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams travelled to London for a meeting with Tripoli’s ambassador to petition for a cessation of hostilities. By what right, they asked the ambassador, did the Barbary States take Americans as slaves? This is how ambassador al-Rahman responded. ‘It was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.’ So, in 1801, Thomas Jefferson took the United States into its first war. I mention all of this because it is particularly relevant today. Jeremy Corbyn has delivered his speech on terrorism and foreign policy, and I happened to think it rather good. But he made one or two elementary mistakes, and declined to consider one or two important facts, and these things combine to undermine his message, and the basis of his decisions and prospective policies. He was right, of course, to suggest that British foreign policy over the last two decades and more has been incoherent and invariably Pyrrhic. I will continue to claim that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right one, but no sane advocate of that position can claim that the subsequent occupation was anything other than farcical. The intervention in Afghanistan, which nearly succeeded in destroying the Taliban, was undermined by the diversion of resources to Iraq, and now the Taliban has taken back vast swathes of territory. Still we give unquestioning support to Pakistan, which actually created the Taliban. Our support for ludicrous figures like Hamid Karzai and Nouri al-Maliki did much to undermine public support for Western interventions, and the cowardly and cynical decision of the Obama regime to abandon efforts to renew the Status of Forces Agreement and remove Coalition troops from Iraq is almost the sole reason for the emergence and success of Islamic State.
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