Saturday, 5 September 2015

Corbyn’s pacifism won’t really affect Britain from opposition, right? Wrong

Another week, another revelation about what a Corbyn-led foreign policy would look like. It is enough that Labour would, as it did in the days of George Lansbury, be directed into a position of “peace at any price”, even if that were saving lives from genocide in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, as a previous Labour government did.

This is not an exaggeration: it is hardly a surprise that the chair of Stop the War Coalition, by definition, supports the idea that any military action by the West under any circumstances is a bad thing (although, strangely, that organisation has shown itself not so against war when it is conducted by a non-Western power, such as Russia).

And so we have been treated in recent days to a reminder that Corbyn regards the death of Osama Bin Laden as “a tragedy”. While, in times of peace, it is right to uphold the right of anyone to a fair trial, Bin Laden was killed in war zone. And it is difficult to imagine many British citizens agreeing with that particular stance, let alone those of New York, where he contrived the death of three thousand.

Leaving on one side the fact that this statement was made on PressTV, the propaganda channel of a deeply unpleasant regime, it is extraordinary that we even have to make these arguments.

And then there was the concern articulated by Halya Coynash, one of Ukraine’s most respected human rights activists, that Corbyn had essentially adopted the Russian position on her country:
“His assessment of Russia’s annexation of Crimea coincides nicely with that presented by Russian President Vladimir Putin and on Russian television and he has simply ignored grave human rights concerns under Russian occupation.”
However, for some it is convenient to think that, should Labour elect Jeremy Corbyn as its leader in a few days’ time, his wacky foreign policy ideas would not do Britain any harm. After all, in opposition, what can a party leader do? And in the hearts of many of his most fervent supporters is the realisation that their man can never be Prime Minister.

This is a dangerously fallacious reading of the role of the Leader of the Opposition.

Rewind to the Syria vote in Parliament, 2013. We should recall that this was a vote to clear the way for a no-fly zone, in order to prevent the genocide which has, inevitably, since brought the death toll into the hundreds of thousands. It was not, to state the crashingly obvious, a colonialist adventure by Western powers.

Thanks to the opportunism of Ed Miliband, keen to please his party and inflict a defeat on the Tories, combined with the poor arithmetic of the Tory whips, the vote was lost. A number of Labour moderates left the party in disgust; many more came close. It was arguably the defining moment of his leadership, for which many inside and outside the party never forgave him.

Now think about what would happen if there was a perfectly justifiable military action, for humanitarian reasons, somewhere in the world this October, after a Corbyn wins. If a humanitarian vote could not be won under Miliband, what chance under the chair of the Stop the War Coalition? It would not happen.

Corollary: the combination of a Corbyn-led Labour and a neo-isolationist tendency on the Tory right, observed in that same Syria vote, would mean near-certain isolationism for Britain for the forseeable future.

Ah, say many on the Labour left, but what’s wrong with that? We don’t want any more Iraqs, after all.

But the world has moved on. If anything, it is a more dangerous place than it was a decade ago. It is oh-so-easy to criticise David Cameron for insisting that Britain meets its NATO defence spending target of 2% of GDP. Until, that is, you realise that Vladimir Putin spends over 4% of Russia’s. A rate, for the record, comparable to the spending of Mussolini in the 1930s.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of Iraq, Britain cannot, must not be tied to an isolationist foreign policy. For its proud tradition of internationalism, for humanitarianism and for its own safety.

But that is what would surely happen with a Corbyn leadership, let alone a prime ministership. It must not be allowed to.


This post first published at Labour Uncut and selected for What We're Reading at Progress Online

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