THE BLOG

Hilary Benn Should Apologise for Supporting the Invasion of Iraq

10/12/2015 12:39 | Updated 08 December 2016

ISIS is a product of the invasion of Iraq by the US/UK in March 2003 and the destruction of the Iraqi state which followed. Without that, ISIS would never have come into existence.

President Obama said so in March 2015, in an interview with Vice News:

"Isis is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot."

And, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, Tony Blair went so far as to admit that "there were elements of truth" in the proposition that the rise of ISIS was caused by the invasion of Iraq.

Hilary Benn voted for the invasion of Iraq
On 18 March 2003, when he was a junior minister in the Blair Government, Hilary Benn voted for the House of Commons motion that authorised British participation alongside the US in the invasion of Iraq - which led to the creation of ISIS a decade later. Jeremy Corbyn, then a Labour backbencher, voted against the motion.

So, prior to Hilary Benn's denunciation of ISIS in his much praised speech in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015, it would have been fitting if he had apologised for his part in the creation of the environment in Iraq out of which ISIS emerged.

Hilary Benn spoke as Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary in support of a Conservative motion authorising the extension of British bombing against ISIS from Iraq into Syria. He ended by saying

"My view is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. That is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight."

Understandably, his speech was greeted with rapturous applause on the Conservative benches. But, 70% of his Labour colleagues resisted his plea to vote for bombing in Syria and instead followed their leader Jeremy Corbyn into the NO lobby.

Bombing ISIS is a moral duty
Strangely, a couple of weeks earlier on 15 November 2015, Hilary Benn actually opposed military action against ISIS in Syria. In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, he said that the "terrible events in Paris" two days earlier meant it was "even more important that we bring the Syrian civil war to an end" before considering air strikes on ISIS and he urged the Government to "drop plans for a new House of Commons vote authorising military attacks in Syria to concentrate on peace talks and providing humanitarian support for refugees".

But, a couple of weeks later, without explanation, he declared bombing ISIS in Syria to be a "moral" duty. In his speech, he asked:

"What should we do with others to confront this threat to our citizens, our nation, other nations and the people who suffer under the cruel yoke of Daesh? The carnage in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger that we face from Daesh. It could just as easily have been London, Glasgow, Leeds, or Birmingham and it could still be. I believe that we have a moral and practical duty to extend the action that we are already taking in Iraq to Syria."

However, he gave no indication how the addition of a small number of British planes to the existing array of American and other planes that are already bombing ISIS in Syria could reduce the capability of ISIS, or individuals inspired by ISIS, to reproduce in a British city the carnage suffered by Paris. Remember France began bombing ISIS in Iraq in September 2014 and extended its bombing to Syria in September 2015 - and six weeks later Paris was brutally attacked.

Seven foiled plots not directed from Syria
Much of the debate about Britain extending its bombing to Syria was conducted with the assumption that ISIS plots to attack Britain are generated in Syria and directed from Syria, to be specific, in Raqqa where ISIS is said to have its headquarters. That is simply untrue: the vast majority of plots against Britain are not directed by ISIS from Syria at all.

David Cameron told the House of Commons on 26 November 2015 that seven plots to attack the UK had been foiled in the previous 12 months "every one of which was either linked to ISIL or inspired by its propaganda".

But, as Alex Salmond of the SNP explained to Pienaar's Politics on BBC Radio on 6 December 2015, by "linked to", David Cameron meant, for example, a mass shooting incident like the recent one in California where the perpetrator claims to be a supporter of ISIS but is not acting on the orders of ISIS and, by "inspired by", he meant a "lone-wolf" motivated by ISIS propaganda to commit some heinous act but with no connection to ISIS. Perhaps, the recent stabbing in the Leytonstone underground station by a lone individual falls into this category.

The key point here is that none of the seven foiled plots mentioned by David Cameron were directed by ISIS from Syria - and therefore none of them could have been prevented by military action of any kind against ISIS in Syria. On the contrary, Britain's decision to extend its bombing of ISIS to Syria is likely to inspire more individuals to engage in these kinds of plots against Britain or British citizens abroad.

Of course, it's possible that future ISIS plots against Britain and other states may be directed from Syria. Can this be inhibited by Britain bombing ISIS infrastructure in Syria as well as in Iraq? It's possible, but very unlikely. 12 months of bombing by the US and others don't seem to have had great success in destroying ISIS infrastructure and disabling it as an organisation in Syria. It's difficult to believe that a small British addition to the present array of airpower will succeed where the US and others with far greater airpower have failed.

In any event, the proposition that without its "heartlands" in Syria ISIS would be unable to direct plots against Britain and elsewhere is not sustainable. On the contrary, it is conceivable that ISIS would retain the ability to do so, even if it lost all the territory it currently controls in Syria and Iraq.

Hilary Benn voted for the bombing of Libya
ISIS has got a growing presence in Libya, thanks to the initiative of David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, who pressurised the US into overthrowing President Gaddafi in 2011. As a result, a functional state was destroyed and ISIS is now free to flourish there.

On 21 March 2011, Hilary Benn voted along with 556 other MPs for the House of Commons motion that authorised British bombing of Libya. Perhaps, he should apologise for that too.

Jeremy Corbyn was one of only 13 MPs who voted against.