Monday, 8 January 2018

2018: The year of still living dangerously

If you thought 2017 was a disturbing time for world geopolitics, hang on to your hats. Last January we wrote about the potential bear-traps of a Trump presidency. One year into it, they are all still there and mostly look worse.

Current situations in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and the Baltic states all look like either remaining, or escalating into, serious conflicts during 2018. Worse than that, we live in genuinely unstable times where the historical precedents are not great.

Aggressive powers – mostly Russia and its client states – have been appeased over recent years in a manner eerily reminiscent of the way fascist powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) were appeased in the 1930s, also following a few years after a major financial crisis and world recession. And that decade didn’t end too well.

The problem that Jeremy Corbyn has is, of course, that he is on the wrong side of the debate regarding all these potential flashpoints. While he will equivocate and be plausibly deniable over his support or not in each case, let’s look at the facts.

One. Iran: Corbyn was paid to present on the regime’s propaganda mouthpiece PressTV (note that this is not the same as appearing on it, although frankly even that is a questionable action, given its banning from the airwaves by OfCom for breaches of broadcasting standards). He appeared on it even six months after its licence was revoked. Further, he has yet to even comment on, let alone support the protesters in, the ongoing scuffles and their violent suppression of the last week, or criticise Iran’s despotic and repressive government.

Two. With North Korea, although he has superficially appealed to both the US and North Korea for calm and argued for them to disarm (a somewhat optimistic appeal in either case), Corbyn’s inner circle also contains known regime apologists such as Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray. Until becoming leader, he chaired Stop the War Coalition (now chaired by Murray), an organisation which superficially advocates for peace but, strangely, never seems to criticise any governments apart from those in the West. Maintaining this disingenuous, “will both sides please step back” approach, while simultaneously implying that only one side is to blame, is typical of Corbyn’s “cognitive dissonance” approach to foreign policy.

Three. Similarly, in all his comments on Syria, he has never once criticised Bashar Assad, a dictator known to have committed mass-murder against his own citizens. He also said there was “very strong evidence” supporting the Russia-propagated position that the use of sarin gas was by the rebels and not by the Assad regime, later proven to be a lie.

Four. Finally, in Ukraine, Milne propagated the Russia-pushed (and blatantly untrue) line that the Euromaidan protestors in Kyiv were having their strings pulled by fascists. If Russia were to attempt a full takeover of the country, or march into one of the Baltic states (something not at all beyond the realms of possibility in the potentially limited window while Trump remains POTUS), you could guarantee that at best he would appeal for calm on both sides, rather than supporting Britain’s treaty obligation to respond in kind via NATO.

For those who do not consider a Baltic invasion possible, by the way, please consider (i) the deep nervousness of the states themselves and (ii) the relative ease with which Putin has already browbeaten and manipulated the world into relatively passive acceptance of his invasion of three Ukrainian provinces. The cost so far has been only selective sanctions on Russian individuals, sanctions which Trump has already (unsuccessfully) attempted to lift. The only difference here is NATO: again, something which Trump is dismissive of.

Closely involved with all these potential flashpoints is Russia: the string-puller in Syria and Iran; the agitator in North Korea; the invader in Ukraine. For the record Corbyn appeared numerous times on its propaganda channel Russia Today since its inception and, since he became leader, his frontbenchers have also appeared 26 times. Perhaps more importantly, he has never been known to make any criticism of Putin (unless emptily criticising “all sides” for use of violence) and, let’s face it, spent the first six years of his parliamentary career taking the USSR’s position against the West. It’s not like there’s not form here.

No, Corbyn is on only ever one side in these debates: the opposite one to the traditional position of his country, on principle.

Weighing all of this up, is this a problem for Britain? Of course it is: a huge one.

If Corbyn is to get even a whiff of becoming its prime minister, which the polls say he does, he would be first and foremost a security risk of the highest order. For him to be attending COBRA or seeing top-classified documents from the security services would be very tricky indeed (we might remember that Harold Wilson felt a distinct paranoia that MI5 were watching him, and it was later found he wasn’t wrong).

No-one expected a Labour win in 2017, but wiser heads will see this time that it is a possibility, if not yet a probability. One honestly wonders whether the spooks might not be tempted to move beyond the monitoring stage with Corbyn; surely a greater threat to the country’s security, if elected, than Wilson ever was.

That said, what is certain is that any major geopolitical shock in 2018 could still have a deleterious effect on Corbyn’s standing. So far he has had minor ones: Syria, Ukraine and Iran are not plays whose main acts have happened on his watch. We are now dealing with the aftershocks.

North Korea has been the only real new flare-up during his term as leader: but a serious escalation there could make his “criticise both sides” policy look increasingly foolish.

As for an attack on one of the Baltic states, this could be the most deadly of all for Corbyn: a man who has spent his whole life criticising NATO would be almost certain to rule out any kind of military response.

First, in the event that Labour were still in opposition, this could be enough for the Tories to destroy him politically, as a failure to respond to an attack on one of its members would clearly mean the demise of NATO as an effective vehicle for Western defence (one assumes, of course, that the Tories would advocate for action, even were it not supported by Trump).

In the event that Labour were actually to be in power, however, the situation would be immeasurably worse. It would mean that Labour was actively trying to bring down the organisation which had kept the peace in Europe these last seventy years, bringing eternal shame upon both party and country.

In short, it would be appeasement of Chamberlainian proportions, a new Sudetenland: “a quarrel in a country far away, of whom we know little”.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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