The leopard learns no lessons

11th September 2021

MI5 Director General, Ken McCallum

Ken McCallum, bespectacled Director General of MI5, looks like a man more likely to advise first time buyers to increase their deposit if they want to secure a mortgage, than a man who heads up Britain’s spook network.  It may be that the old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is apt here.  Presumably McCallum has done whatever it takes to qualify as the country’s chief spook and his banker’s demeanour is just a user friendly façade.  Either that or running the nation’s spy network and managing the overwhelming housing debt of young people have more in common than we realise.

McCallum has emerged from MI5 HQ, on the banks of the Thames, to grace the news channels with his two pennyworth on the likely consequences of the retreat from Afghanistan.  The chief spook claims that Islamic extremists had been “hardened and emboldened” by the fall of Kabul, adding that,

“Overnight, you can have a psychological boost, a morale boost, to extremists already here, or in other countries.” 

McCallum also claimed that 31 “late-stage attack” plots had been disrupted in Britain over the last four years. Although he did not explicitly link these actions to the position in Afghanistan, the fact of the UK’s overseas interference across the Middle East has clearly made Britain a target for Islamic extremists.

McCallum went on to warn that,

“Even if the Taliban is absolutely in good faith about wanting to prevent terrorism being exported from Afghanistan, that will be a difficult task to accomplish. Afghanistan is not an easy country to govern and within which to ensure perfect security.”

The US led Western retreat is certainly evidence of that being the case and McCallum took the opportunity to suggest that intelligence agencies needed to plan for an increase in the Islamist threat. 

Typically, what McCallum failed to offer was any suggestion as to how the threat could be averted or any analysis as to why the British state is in the front line of threats from Islamic terrorists.  The same lack of insight is true of the political establishment in the United States, where much of the debate and emphasis around the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is focussed upon the response to those events, rather than any analysis as to why they happened in the first place.

Such an analysis does not play to the 9/11 narrative of outrage that the United States ‘homeland’ could be threatened in any way, or that US imperialist aggression could be culpable for such an outcome.  The targeting and killing of innocent civilians is never justifiable and 9/11 is clearly a heinous act on that basis. 

However, the many and varied massacres carried out in the name of ‘freedom’, as defined by Western imperialism, account for millions slaughtered in order to enrich a few, through slave trading, the exploitation of mineral resources, the struggle to control supplies of oil, to name but a few instances.  The CIA backed coup d’etat in Chile, took place on 11th September 1973, an anniversary imperialism is not so quick to remember.

Having failed miserably in Afghanistan, and more widely in the Middle East, with a boots on the ground approach, it would be sensible for the NATO nations to re-evaluate their approach.  So far their strategy has done little to win friends or influence anyone, other than the few who have stood to gain by being the handmaiden’s of imperialism, and apologists for the rape of their country’s resources.

Initial indications from British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, suggest that the wrong conclusions may already have been drawn.  The Global Britain posture outlined by Boris Johnson earlier in the year does not allow for a reduction in Britain’s nuclear weapons capability.  It does not allow for a reduction in the overseas deployment of British troops.  It does not allow for an end to the financing of proxy insurgents to undermine governments deemed ‘unsuitable’ by the West, as happened in Afghanistan 40 years ago and more recently in Syria.  It does not allow for withdrawal from NATO and a non-aligned foreign policy, based upon non-interference and the right of nations to self determination.  

None of these things are on the radar of the Tories.  Instead, Ben Wallace spent part of this week overseeing one of the first flights of the remotely piloted Protector large drone, capable of bearing missiles.  When Wallace was asked if he was prepared to consider drone strikes in Afghanistan, he responded,

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect citizens’ lives and our interests and allies when we’re called upon to do so.”

On the presumption that Wallace does not apply this philosophy exclusively to Afghanistan he is essentially giving British imperialism carte blanche to launch armed drone strikes wherever “our interest and allies” are deemed to be under threat.  Wallace in fact underlined this position by stating that,

“One of the options is to deploy anywhere in the world where there is an imminent threat to life, British life or our allies, where international law enables us to take action.”

Wallace has ordered 16 Protector drones at a cost of £260m, with a view to them being operational by 2023.  The drones are capable of being loaded with up to 16 missiles with an operating range of 1,250 miles when armed.

Boots on the ground and service personnel in bodybags may no longer be seen to be acceptable but the imperialist leopard is not changing its spots.  The lessons of 9/11 and the retreat from the unwinnable war in Afghanistan need to be re-assessed in the interests of the people, not the few who stand to profit from continued occupation and exploitation.

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