Protecting British citizens? UK foreign policy in the Middle East
by Ian Sinclair
3 October 2014
Announcing that the terror threat had been increased from “substantial” to “severe”, in August David Cameron said “my first priority as Prime Minister is to make sure we do everything possible to keep our people safe.” The Home Secretary Theresa May echoed Cameron’s pledge, noting “the first and most important duty of government is the protection of British people”.
As with all government statements it’s always good to remember Eduardo Galeano’s maxim that “in general, the words uttered by power are not meant to express its actions, but to disguise them”. With this in mind, it’s worthwhile looking into the Government’s claim that protecting British citizens is their top priority.
Let’s start with the biggest political issue of recent times – the 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq. According to a September 2003 report from the Intelligence and Security Committee, in February 2003 the Joint Intelligence Committee told the government “al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.”
This advice was in line with warnings from many others, ranging from the leaders of the burgeoning UK anti-war movement to Tony Blair’s close friend Hosni Mubarak, who claimed a war would lead to 100 bin Ladens. In January 2003 former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd argued an invasion risked “turning the Middle East into an inexhaustible recruiting ground for anti-western terrorism.”
As everyone knows, the Government pushed aside these concerns and marched into Iraq in March 2003. And, as surely as night follows day, the illegal invasion and subsequent bloody occupation massively increased the terror threat to the West, a fact confirmed by the former head of MI5 from 2002-7, Eliza Manningham-Buller. 7/7 and 21/7 was the shocking outcome.
A similar narrative also applies to Afghanistan. Over the last 13 years both Labour and Conservative governments have repeatedly told the public British armed forces are occupying Helmand to keep British streets safe. In contrast, Adam Holloway, Conservative MP, former Grenadier Guards officer and member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, has said “put starkly, our current situation is working against the West’s security interest and is making attacks on the streets of Britain more, not less, likely.” The majority of the public seem to side with Holloway, with a 2009 Mail on Sunday poll finding three-quarters of those questioned did not think fighting in Afghanistan was making British people safer from terrorism. Both the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston marathon bombing were justified by the Western occupation of Afghanistan.
Turning to the new Iraq War against ISIS, a plethora of experts have warned that US and UK bombing of Iraq (and Syria) will likely lead to more terrorism directed at the West. Professor Robert Pape, Director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, argued in June 2014 that “Far from hurting the terrorists, re-engaging Iraq (and/or engaging Syria) would put us back on the path of a rising terrorist threat that has taken us over a decade to escape.” By intervening militarily in Iraq “We would be seen – again – as foreign occupiers and become a target for terrorist organizations again.” Richard Barrett, the former Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations at MI6, concurs, noting that US-UK air strikes in Iraq could “increase the risk” from homegrown terrorists in the West.
The US started bombing Iraq on 8 August and Syria on 23 September (the UK is set to start bombing Iraq any day). The predictable outcome? The Director of the FBI recently told US Congress that support for ISIS increased after US airstrikes began in Iraq. And following the US air strikes in Syria, the radical jihadist rebel group Al-Nusra Front stated the US attacks have “put them on the list of jihadist targets throughout the world”.
Rather than the safety of British citizens being a top priority for the Government, by disregarding repeated expert warnings the government’s own actions prove the threat of terror is actually a low priority for our rulers. Of course, Cameron and Blair aren’t evil Disney villains sitting at home twirling their moustaches thinking about the best way to harm British citizens. But as prime minister they head a government that has geo-political, military and economic interests that, in the final analysis, trump the safety of the British people.
And we can go one further. Rather than protecting UK citizens, we can say with certainty that UK foreign policy in the Middle East in support of these interests actually endangers British citizens by whipping up hatred of the UK.
Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He Tweets @IanJSinclair