Who said this? You might guess Ron Paul. It does sound very much like the sort of explanation of blowback that Paul frequently offers in relation to United States foreign interventions. But, the quote is not from Paul. The quote is from a speech by Jeremy Corbyn four days after the killing of over 20 people at a concert in Manchester, England attended largely by teenage and younger individuals.
Corbyn is the leader of the British Labour Party. Over the past few weeks, his party has continued to reduce the lead of the ruling Conservative Party in polling for Britain’s June 8 general election. Whether or not Corbyn’s party wins the most seats in the House of Commons, Corbyn is showing, as Paul has in America, that, contrary to the fretting of many pundits, being upfront about blowback and opposing wars is not a political liability.
Corbyn, in his speech, did more than just acknowledge the reality of blowback. Like Paul, Corbyn argued that blowback is a reason for changing foreign policy. We can see this when we look at Corbyn’s blowback comment in context. Corbyn stated:
There is no question about the seriousness of what we face. Over recent years, the threat of terrorism has continued to grow. You deserve to know what a Labour government will do to keep you and your family safe. Our approach will involve change at home and change abroad.Watch Corbyn’s speech here:
We will also change what we do abroad. Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed out the connections between wars that we have been involved in or 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.
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.
We must be brave enough to admit that the War on Terror is not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.
Seeing the army on our own streets today is a stark reminder that the current approach isn’t really working so well. So, I would like to take a moment to speak to our soldiers on the streets of Britain. You are doing your duty as you have done so many times before. I want to assure you that, under my leadership, you will only be deployed abroad when there is a clear need and only when there is a plan that you have the resources to do your job and secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.
As when Paul talked about blowback in his 2008 and 2012 US presidential campaigns, Corbyn’s comments have been met with derision from politicians representing the foreign intervention establishment. For example, Lizzie Dearden reported in The Independent that Britain Security Minister Ben Wallace “attacked Jeremy Corbyn for helping ‘justify’ terrorism” in the speech and that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson “called the speech ‘absolutely monstrous’, adding that he found it ‘absolutely extraordinary and inexplicable in this week of all weeks that there should be any attempt to justify or to legitimate the actions of terrorists in this way’.”
These attacks on Corbyn by British Conservative politicians are reminiscent of the debate within the debate between US presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Paul in which Giuliani challenged Paul’s discussion of blowback in a 2007 Republican presidential primary debate.
Corbyn, in his May 26 speech, did not clearly express Paul’s comprehensive noninterventionist sentiment. That, though, is a high standard of comparison. Plus, Corbyn’s comments were likely tempered by the fact that Corbyn was speaking for his party rather than for just himself.
Corbyn does have a history of opposing British involvement in foreign wars, including in Iraq and Libya.
At a 2003 rally against the then-upcoming Iraq War, Corbyn declared that the obvious answers included “no to war” and “yes to peace.” Corbyn also noted some of the negative consequences he expected would come from the Iraq War that fit in well with his comment on May 26 regarding blowback. Corbyn said:
… September 11 was a dreadful event. Eight thousand deaths in Afghanistan brought back none of those who died in the World Trade Center. Thousands more deaths in Iraq will not make things right. It will set off the spiral of conflict, of hate, of misery, of desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression, and the misery of future generations.Watch Corbyn’s speech against the Iraq War here:
In a 2011 speech at another rally, Corbyn declared his opposition to British involvement in the effort to depose Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi. Corbyn declared his opposition to the ongoing bombing as well as the British-aided U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986. “And it seems to me that this invasion, and it is an invasion in reality, is really all about oil, it’s all about control, and it’s all about a message to the rest of the world and the rest of the region that we can do it if we want to,” declared Corbyn. Continuing, Corbyn addressed a topic often discussed by Paul as well — the arming of foreign governments. Corbyn, stated:
We have been supplying arms to Bahrain, to Saudi Arabia, to Oman, to Yemen, every single country in the region. Three weeks ago, this country was happily trading with, investing with, buying from Libya and Colonel Gaddafi. He was not an enemy three weeks ago. It’s all happened remarkably quickly under remarkable levels of hypocrisy. We cannot complain about human rights abuses by unaccountable, unelected dictators if we arm them, we supply them, we profit from them, and we happily consort with them.Watch the speech here:
The June 8 British election is not a referendum on foreign intervention. People will be considering many different issues in deciding their votes. And people will be voting to fill the House of Commons, not directly for Corbyn or others to be prime minister. Nonetheless, it is significant that Corbyn is speaking about blowback and the negatives of militarism as his party appears to be gaining support.
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