Peter Oborne espouses dangerous, delusional and factually incorrect views on the UK-US alliance

Robin Simcox castigates the Telegraph writer Peter Oborne for his nonsensical positions on the Anglo-American relationship

Why does the Telegraph keep publishing these fallacies?
Robin Simcox
On 15 March 2012 15:22

I suppose we should stop being shocked by Peter Oborne’s ability to be wrong, but yesterday’s Daily Telegraph article on the US-UK special relationship is exceptional even by his standards.

Oborne’s gripe is that Britain has stuck too closely to US foreign policy and counterterrorism policy following the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It has led to military disasters abroad, the degradation of domestic civil liberties, subversion of international law and increased our vulnerability to terrorist attack.

Normally this could be dismissed as standard left wing undergraduate nonsense, but coming from the chief political commentator of Britain’s foremost conservative newspaper, it is worth refuting.

In terms of foreign policy, Oborne says our ‘humiliations’ in Iraq and Afghanistan ‘might have been worthwhile if the cause was good’. The necessity and morality of Iraq will be debated for decades to come.

In Afghanistan, however, we overthrew the Taliban hand choppers and dismantled a terrorist network that just incinerated thousands of innocent citizens by turning planes into missiles. We tried to put in place basic infrastructures, building schools, roads, hospitals and other public services. If that is not a ‘good cause’, then what is?

Ignoring all this, Oborne focuses on the current ‘atrocious conduct’ of the US in Afghanistan, referring to the ‘destruction of copies of the Koran, the urinating on dead Taliban [and] last weekend’s massacre of 16 civilians in Kandahar by an unnamed US solder’. It is bad enough that Oborne clearly regards accidental offence caused by burning a book as conduct equivalent to murdering 16 innocents (perhaps in his next article, he should tell us how exactly to properly dispose of a Koran?) Yet he also regards these not as isolated incidents of a tiny minority, but proof of ‘American barbarism’, to which Britain is an ‘accomplice’.

Similarly, the intervention in Libya is criticised because it ‘abused’ a United Nations resolution, upset Russia and China (those respectful arbiters of international law) and had ‘terribly damaging consequences’ in how we deal with Syria. I am not sure if Oborne is proposing here that the US and UK should be intervening in Syria but if so, I look forward to hearing why he thinks this is a good cause in the way that Iraq and Afghanistan were so clearly not.

In terms of counterterrorism, US and UK attempts to strengthen homeland security in the face of a severe terrorist threat are ‘an affront to humanity’ which ‘strengthens’ al-Qaeda and ‘makes much more likely and risks legitimising a repeat of the kind of atrocities that struck London in July, 2005’. This is both morally reprehensible and factually wrong.

Firstly, it is a scandalous assertion that anything could legitimise blowing up innocent people on London buses. Secondly, why does Oborne think terrorism is now ‘much more likely’? Pretty much every counterterrorism expert you speak to would say that al-Qaeda is in a greatly degraded and weakened state as a result of the US response to 9/11. The killing, capturing or jailing of thousands of terrorists makes us less likely to have a repeat of 7/7.

The UK terrorism threat was even downgraded last year, so he either knows something that the security services do not or his claim that we are ‘much more likely’ to be victims of a terrorist attack is made up. But accepting the threat is reduced would mean that Oborne had to accept that our response to al-Qaeda inspired terrorism works, and clearly he is unwilling to do that.

No anti-American article would be complete without at least one mention of Guantanamo Bay. On cue, Oborne castigates David Cameron for not raising with Barack Obama the ‘shameful case’ of Shaker Aamer, the remaining British resident in Guantanamo Bay. But Oborne neglects to mention that the Foreign Office actually is already lobbying the US for the release of Aamer (in my view incorrectly).

And even if Cameron had raised this point with Obama, then Obama would have every right to say that Aamer admitted travelling to Afghanistan to fight with the mujahideen; that in Guantanamo, seven separate sources described Aamer's connections with al-Qaeda and closeness to Osama bin Laden; that al-Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah said Aamer was an ‘extremely active’ recruiter; and that even Moazzam Begg – a former Guantanamo detainee that Oborne has campaigned alongside – said Aamer was a weapons trained al-Qaeda recruiter. If Aamer’s detention is indeed ‘shameful’, then so is Oborne’s ignorance about who this man actually is.

Far left and Islamist groups have been voicing opinions such as those parroted by Oborne for a long time. However, Oborne possibly represents a particular strand of conservatism that loathes the liberal interventionist foreign policy that dominated the Blair years so much that it has left him completely blind to the threat al-Qaeda and those they inspire represent.

Oborne’s belief that the world will be a safer place with a less interventionist US and UK foreign policy is a tempting one at a time of economic meltdown. But it is a dangerous and delusional one. Let up the pressure on al-Qaeda and its supporters in the way Oborne envisages, and they will happily prove it.

Robin Simcox is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign affairs think tank in London. Simcox is the author of numerous publications including 'Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections' and 'Control Orders: Strengthening National Security'. He tweets at @RobinSimcox

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