'The “blowback theory”, which blames Islamist terrorism directly on western expeditionary warfare, is both facile and irrelevant in this case. By bombing Libya we did not enrage or radicalise young Muslims such as Abedi: we simply gave them space to operate in.'
Paul Mason, The Guardian.Blowback does not mean there is necessarily a 'direct' reaction to British foreign policy, in this case the decision to align with Qatari funded rebels to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi in 2011. The addition of the word 'theory' does not mean it is a theory, as it remains a fact that the Gulf States backed rebels, many of them jihadists, against Gaddafi.
Blowback tends too much to be portrayed in conspiratorial terms as the explosive consequences of a foreign policy simply exploding into one's own face instead of having the desired effect 'over there'. But it's best thought of the repatriation of a wave of jihadi violence that was unleashed abroad through networks established 'there' coming 'here'.
Paul Mason makes no mention of the role of the Gulf States when analysing the link British foreign policy and domestic jihadi terrorism. He makes the clear point that Theresa May was Home Secretary when MI5 recruited British Libyans to go and fight. Austerity cuts to policing and the security services might have caused the Manchester Attack.
Mason is right that the attacks on Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is an attempt at deflection away from security and intelligence failures-'they took the eye off the ball'. Corbyn was accused viciously yesterday of 'justifying' and 'excusing' terrorism for very meekly suggesting that there were links between foreign policy and terrorism.
If anything, Corbyn was too lame and muted. In making the claim there are links, he failed to specify how and why this was true, thus not capturing public attention enough while not forcing the Conservatives on the defensive. Libya was not referenced directly, nor Syria, though it is clear jihadi movements were supported there by Britain's allies.
Mason supported the Libyan intervention and yet bemoans the inevitable consequences while he postures as being an anti-Establishment radical. There is still no hard evidence that David Cameron's use of air power to 'prevent a massacre' did so. He supported the rebels to show support for Qatar and Saudi Arabia in a policy of 'regime change'.
The usual 'damned if we do, damned if we don't' argument over military intervention to assist 'Muslim' causes is facile and irrelevant. The foreign policy of Britain is determined primarily by the Sunni Gulf States and not by London: Britain is a client state that assist them in realising their geopolitical goals where they coincide.
While Cameron made a choice to intervene militarily, the circumstances within which it was made for him was shaped primarily by Qatar back in 2011. It was assumed that Doha's support for 'democratic forces' meant that by assisting in installing democracies with its help, Britain could win back popular Arab Muslim support for 'our values'.
The idea this opening could ever promise that presupposed that Gulf autocracies could really back democracy abroad when they crushed dissent at home. Qatar and the Saudi had long supported jihadists whose commitment to democracy was shallow or a pose under newly formed groups that had learnt the Western commercial art of rebranding.
Stalwart supporters of former LIFG jihadists included none other than Senator John McCain who refereed to Abdel Belhadj and his fighters as 'courageous' ( unlike the 'cowardly' Manchester bomber ), denied their obvious links to Al Qaeda and extolled them highly as 'Libyan patriots who want to liberate their country'.
Some were mujahedeen vets that fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. McCain never stopped seeing everything in Cold War terms of all dissidents under dictatorships or ranged against them necessarily being staunch democratic heroes. The reality is not to get in the way of the simplistic Good vs Evil scenario.
Though it is not considered good form to openly laud jihadists as 'freedom fighters', as Margaret Thatcher did in the 1980s, it is hardly probable Cameron did not have his own worldview shaped by this dualistic way of thinking. The idea was that if Britain was seen as aligning with democrats against dictators, Islamist militancy would be defused.
The reason was the 'war on terror', which Corbyn witlessly assumed in his speech yesterday had failed in 2017, was actually dropped in 2009. The emphasis under President Obama was to support democratic processes and accept moderate Islamists in power if they won in elections, as happened, at first in Egypt, after the uprising there ousted Mubarak.
As regards Libya, there was never any evidence that if Gaddafi was overthrown that the state would not collapse completely-as it did-or that Islamists were united in regarding the ballot box rather than bombs and bullets as the way forward. The militias were only united in hatred of Gaddafi and jihadi-salafists were prominent in them.
If there was no plan for what would happen if things went wrong in Libya, then military assistance should not have been given by Britain. The omission by Mason of the role of Qatar in bankrolling rebels, many of whom were former or actual jihadists in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, invalidates the attempt to make narrow political points.
The question is, of course, about why intelligence allowed the Abedis to slip off the radar after MI5 had recruited British Libyans to go and fight in the uprising. Yet further to this, there is a need to accept that the jihadists affiliated with Al Qaeda were operating in Libya and that the Gulf states were supporting this.
The idea the British national security state had no idea that the rebels on the ground from Benghazi had a large contingent of jihadists amongst them is fantastical. Either they did, in which case the British state turned a blind eye in the wishful hope they could be 'neutralised later, or they did not, in which case they were incompetent.
If the British security services did not know there were Al Qaeda rebels fighting against Gaddafi and that those such as Abedi would potentially be aligned with them, ( Ramadan Abedi had been in the LIFG in the 1990s when he sought asylum in the UK ), then the value of the security cooperation with the Saudis might be challenged.
The weight of the evidence is that the British security state had knowledge of British Libyan connections with Al Qaeda or the potential for them to become radicalised there. They took the risk in 2011, knowing the Gulf States were backing jihadi rebels, because geopolitical and commercial interests trumped domestic security.