Following Monday’s attack on Manchester, campaigning for next month’s British general election was suspended. Today, the race resumed. Conservative prime minister Theresa May chose a relatively low-key restart. Her main opponent, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, chose the opposite approach.
Corbyn gave a speech equivocating in its condemnation of the Manchester attack. He offered a cursory condemnation of the bomber, Salman Ramadan Abedi, before saying what was really on his mind:
We will also change what we do abroad. Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.
Look closely at Corbyn’s words here. On the first day of campaigning after a major atrocity, he chose to strike moral and strategic parallels between British foreign policy and ISIS. In so doing, he demonstrated the worst kind of moral cowardice. He also proved himself a man of deep strategic incontinence.
After all, while individual Islamist terrorists are often partly motivated by the perceived injustices of Western foreign policy, those they serve are not — and that difference is critical. From ISIS to al-Qaeda to Hezbollah, Islamist groups are motivated by Islamic scripture. The majority of scholars from various Islamic schools would attest that these groups adhere to their own warped interpretations of the Koran. But the Koran is nevertheless important, because it motivates an ordained mission that seeks something far more elusive than territory or political power: purity on Earth. The major Islamist terrorist leaders have dedicated themselves to the imposition of Allah’s law on all of humanity, and in this they see themselves as humanity’s liberators. This is particularly true in the case of Salafi-Jihadist groups such as ISIS. Put simply, to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ilk, Western foreign policy is a peripheral concern.
By misreading this important distinction between fighters and organization, Corbyn renders himself blind to the threat. If there was no distinction, then withdrawal from the Middle East, or North Africa, or indeed the world, might at least be rational on paper. But the distinction is real. And it means that the intent of the terrorists — attacking the West so as to purge immorality and injustice — would not change one bit if we adopted the isolationist foreign policy Corbyn desires. If anything, in fact, such an approach would simply create space for jihadist groups to grow stronger.
ISIS proves as much: It was not until the Obama administration withdrew from Iraq in late 2011 that al-Baghdadi’s death cult rose from the ashes, and the timing was not coincidental. By withdrawing, Obama had ceded America’s regional influence. Meeting with pro-Iranian politicians prior to 2011, U.S. diplomats, intelligence agents, and military officers could point to thousands of retained forces in Iraq. That gave weight to their efforts to improve multi-sectarian and factional relations. But when withdrawal came, the weight went with it. And suddenly, our ability to influence political developments perished alongside our capability to assist Iraqi security forces in counter-terrorism missions. And so ISIS filled the vacuum.
The example of ISIS offers warning against Corbyn’s preferred foreign policy. As a manifestly anti-American, unreconstructed avatar of the radical left, Corbyn would defer to terrorists across the Islamic world. And given the pivotal ideological battles currently underway in states such as Saudi Arabia, we can surmise where Corbyn’s appeasement would lead: to a future in which attacks such as Abedi’s became a daily hazard, rather than an occasional one.
Fortunately, local and national opinion polls suggest that May will crush Corbyn on June 8.
— Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com