Praising Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘radical’ approach to foreign policy is both premature and misguided given that the man contradicts himself
One day into the Corbyn era and the Conservatives had their line of attack. Security, security, security – a single word designed to warn and appeal to the public that Corbyn is a novice leader with a dangerous cause. Priti Patel, Employment Secretary, used the word 11 times in a four-minute interview on Corbyn; Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary, 9 times in a single minute, reciting Cameron’s party-line denouncement of Corbyn word-for-word – ‘the Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security’.
A hero of the new populist Left he may be, but on the question of national security, the Tories are right. Corbyn’s self-styled ‘radically different’ international policy is an ill-conceived project to turn the clock back on the West and leave its allies, particularly in the Middle East, at the mercy of everything the Left should stand against. It is a policy of self-destructive pacifism – and it is not even ‘radical’.
You might not expect this from a man who has so often found himself on the right side of history: Corbyn actively resisted Thatcher’s collusion with Apartheid and Pinochet, earning the badge that every aspiring revolutionary child of the 60s hoped for – getting arrested for protesting fascism. He spoke out in support of Salman Rushdie after the fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini; he was the first MP to protest Saddam Hussein’s gas bombardment of Kurds in Halabja; and as recently as this year’s Labour leadership campaign, he visited a Kurdish community centre in solidarity with their struggle for peace and self-determination.
Despite these welcome overtures, Corbyn has time and again abandoned his ‘comrades’ exactly when they needed him most. His opposition to the coalition bombing campaign against IS, for example, is utterly at odds with his supposed support for the Kurds. Together with the Turkmen, Christians and Yizidis of Northern Iraq, the Kurds have said repeatedly that further strikes could save many more – and that areas such as the Kurdish majority city of Kobane would now be in ruins under IS rule were it not for the support of US air strikes. Yet Corbyn has opposed all Western intervention at every turn.
It is not inconsequential to note here, that Corbyn was until recently Chair of Stop The War Coalition campaign. Throughout his career, he has voted against 13 critical pieces of anti-terrorism legislation and has blankly opposed every motion in favour of UK military support overseas, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. With this steadfast pacifism, Corbyn proposes to implement a foreign policy that ‘understands our role in causing the conflicts of today‘ – that is to say, a policy that accepts we have in many ways brought the present crises on ourselves. His plans to retire Trident, abandon NATO, renounce militarism, eschew intervention, apologise for the Iraq War and abandon the Kurds, in his own way, very much belong to his narrative of retreat and ‘conciliation’.
It makes total sense then – at least logically – why Corbyn would refuse to declare war on fascists who have already declared war on him and his allies, thinking there is actually something justifiable to their cause. His comments during a parliamentary debate on counter-terrorism for British nationals returning from overseas bear a little scrutiny here:
‘I have encountered young people who have been attracted to what ISIS is doing … [who] say that what the West did in Iraq and Afghanistan was appalling … We are living with the consequences of the war on terror of 2001, and if we continue to try to create legal obstacles and make value judgements about people without considering the overall policy we are following, we will return to legislation such as this again and again, year after year’.
This view – so popular on the Left nowadays – is utterly facile. It brands the likes of IS as a response to the West’s colonial bluster, saying, in effect, that Islamist video-butchers and suicide-murderers represent a ‘resistance’ with a liberation ideology.
This view is neatly summarised by Guardian columnist and contributor to Corbyn’s former Stop The War Coalition website, Seamus Milne, who, in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders, wrote – ‘let Paris be a warning: they are here because we are there’. Indeed, Stop the War Coalition publishes numerous articles of this kind. One of them, argues that Islamist terrorists who want to impose Sharia and kill cartoonists for drawing the exalted prophet of Islam while shouting ‘allahu Akbar’ have nothing, in fact, to do with Islam. Another, claims moral equivalence between those that expressly target civilians – IS and the Charlie Hebdo killers – and the US, whose civilian victims are incidental to its attempts to repel the advance of terror groups.
Overreaching considerably in attempts to confront the conscience of the imperial West, advocates of this view make the grave mistake of thinking that fascists with brown skin might just stop being fascists if only we were a little nicer to them.
As Nick Cohen argues in What’s Left, this amounts to a surrender of once cherished values of the Left in favour of a stubborn attachment to multiculturalism and a misguided kindness to anything non/anti-Western – no matter how savage. It gives too much ground, not only to IS, but to powers such as Russia and Iran whose intervention in Middle Eastern conflicts is invariably an affront to all the Left used to defend – emancipated women, scientific inquiry, freedom of speech and separation of religion from the state.
Now the Left appears willing to do anything at all costs to avoid being seen supporting the US. They choose to bury their heads in the ground, fooling themselves into thinking they are ‘anti-war’ when they are not at all. They are shadily taking the other side in a conflict where the moral and civilisational stakes are extremely high.
Corbyn’s ‘radically different’ international policy bears all the hallmarks of this long-lost Left. From his misdiagnosis of the Islamist threat to his broad retreat from old alliances, Corbyn ultimately condemns those he claims to support.
During the Labour hustings, he easily managed to win applause with loose talk of global justice, oppressed peoples and the Iraq War. But now as leader, he should face the appropriate scrutiny – why does his solidarity with the refugees of wars extend only to those that have made it to Europe? Why is he content to treat these symptoms while denying the root cause of IS? Does he believe IS is a rational actor that we can negotiate peace with? Why would he even tolerate co-existence with such a regime? Why does he flatly deny the need to resist, militarily, fascists who mean to destroy everything he claims to love and wants to defend? And is he sure he still wants to call this a ‘radical’ policy?
These are very important questions for a potential leader of a major world power (yes, that’s right, a world power), and until Corbyn has a convincing argument, the Left should be careful what it wishes for.