Whatever happens in the election, Jeremy Corbyn has earned his place in history. He did this last Friday when he didn’t flee in the face of the Tory attempts to exploit the Manchester atrocity.
Corbyn seized the moment and became the first frontline politician to highlight the connection between Britain’s role in US wars in the Middle East and terror attacks.
Of course, the Tories and the Labour right have been swift to attack him. Positively the stupidest criticism has been that the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington preceded the invasion of Iraq.
The conservative historian and former soldier Andrew Bacevich starts his monumental study America’s War for the Greater Middle East in the late 1970s. A key episode came in Afghanistan during Jimmy Carter’s presidency between 1977 and 1981.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, who has just died, is being mourned as a great and good man by the Democratic Party establishment.
In a 1998 interview Brzezinski boasted that in 1979 the CIA secretly started funding and arming Islamist guerrillas fighting the leftist military regime in Afghanistan. Brzezinski hoped to lure Russia into invading and getting mired in a Vietnam-like quagmire, which indeed happened.
Asked whether he regretted fuelling Islamist terrorism, Brzezinski replied contemptuously, “What is more important in world history? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
Less than three years later some of those “agitated Muslims” destroyed the World Trade Centre. Osama Bin Laden formed Al Qaida when serving in the Western-backed insurgency in Afghanistan. He turned it against the West after the first big direct US military intervention in the Middle East, the 1991 war with Iraq.
But what about the West’s second Iraq war, starting in 2003? Danny Finkelstein, who prides himself as a Tory intellectual, tweeted, “By suggesting that our foreign interventions cause domestic terrorism, Jeremy Corbyn is confusing correlation with causation.”
This is a fancy way of saying that just because the London and Manchester bombings took place after Britain participated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq doesn’t mean they were caused by it.
This logic chopping is an evasion of the real history.
Isis is a monster incubated in the Iraq war. Its originator Abu Mos’ab al Zarqawi was a marginal figure before the US and Britain invaded Iraq.
The chaos and suffering caused by the occupation gave Zarqawi the space to develop Al Qaida in Iraq into a sectarian Islamist military organisation targeting both the occupiers and non-Sunni Muslim groups.
After the US killed him, a coalition of army officers from the old Baathist dictatorship and veterans of occupation prisons built Isis. Western-backed sectarian Shiite rule in Iraq and chaos in Libya offered it more openings.
To say this is not in any way to excuse the jihadis. Isis is a thoroughly reactionary organisation, but the West’s interventions have again and again given it a wider audience.
Taking into account how your opponents will react to your own actions is elementary to all strategy, political and military. It was entirely predictable that invading Iraq would lead to more terrorist attacks. Indeed, the Joint Intelligence Committee predicted this in February 2003. It said, “The threat from Al Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. They will target Coalition forces and other Western interests in the Middle East.
“Attacks against Western interests elsewhere are also likely, especially in the US and UK, for maximum impact. The worldwide threat from other Islamist groups and individuals will increase significantly.”
But George Bush and Tony Blair ignored such warnings, and later Western governments have continued the vicious cycle of intervention and atrocity. Britain has mounted over 1,300 airstrikes on Iraq and Syria since October 2014.
Corbyn is quite right to challenge this infernal machine of death and destruction.