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A Corbynite Foreign Policy


While this is far removed from my bailiwick within the realm of political science, foreign policy is something that many of my acquaintances in the Labour Party are self-professed experts, able to see through the smears and brainwashing of the mainstream media to instantly focus, laser-like, on the truth:

It’s the West’s fault.

The reaction of Corbyn and his cult to any issue of foreign affairs is predictably automatic and uninformative. We’re not going to learn anything new. There are two sets of good guys: any state directly, or however tenuously indirectly, linked to the Communist bloc during the cold war. This can take on absurd contortions, such as supporting Putin’s Russia as in the case in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia in early 2018. Corbyn discounted British intelligence’s estimate on the responsibility of the attack, and advisor Seamus Milne took it one step further in an attempt to repudiate evidence that the Kremlin was directly involved:

The Labour leader and his spokesman Seumas Milne repeatedly failed to accept that Russia is responsible for the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter and later called British intelligence “problematic”, warning another state could be to blame. 

The second set of good guys are any sort of liberation movement that Corbyn happens to support. There is some sort of coherence to this: if the West is somehow involved, at the present time or the distant past, he chooses the other side. This extends to the British isles, of course. He has made positive noises about Scottish independence, and is notorious for his support for the IRA, and a united Ireland:

Northern Ireland was a defining issue for Jeremy Corbyn during his long career as a backbencher. Mr Corbyn the backbencher was a republican supporter. He backed a united Ireland and he prominently identified himself on several occasions with Sinn Féin, with which the Provisional IRA was entwined. He voted against the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement on the grounds that it strengthened the border between the north and the south. He was consistently outside the Labour party mainstream, which favoured a generally bipartisan approach on Northern Ireland.

Nevertheless he voted in favour of the 1998 Good Friday agreement on the grounds that it offered the hope of peace and reconciliation across the divide.

Incidentally, I’ve been told by someone who did serve with him in that period that his support for the Good Friday agreement was late coming; he initially opposed it as he viewed it would be a barrier to a united Ireland. I’ve also been told that at a critical juncture, Sinn Féin approached him and told him to back the hell off, as his intransigence was a barrier to getting all parties on the Republican side on board in decommissioning. This is somewhat ironic for the mythical man of peace. In his defence, his supporters argue that he will speak to all sides. The reality is he only speaks to the side with which he is comfortable. From the FP piece linked above:

When criticized for being too close to Islamist extremism, Corbyn inevitably responds with the same mantra: I abhor violence on all sides. We need a political settlement. We must have dialogue with those with whom we disagree.

None of this stands up to scrutiny. As his consistent covering for the IRA has demonstrated, he is perfectly relaxed about nonstate actors’ use of violence as long as it is for a cause—in that case, a united Ireland—with which he agrees. Despite protestations to the contrary, he is also completely disinterested in dialogue with those with whom he disagrees. It is why we always see him at conferences for Palestine and Stop the War rallies but never at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or the Aspen Security Forum.

Not long after he was elected leader, I was asked to do some interviews on the BBC (*) about his position on Trident renewal. Corbyn is a long time member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and in February 2016 stated:

 ‘I don’t want us to replace Trident, everyone knows that, many of the British public don’t want to replace Trident. We live in a world where so many things are possible. Where peace is possible in so many places. I’m here because I believe in a nuclear-free Britain and a nuclear-free future.’

While his personal policy is for the UK to not renew its Trident fleet, that die has been largely cast. Parliament approved renewal, and the lead boat of the new class, HMS Dreadnought, has been laid down in October 2016. The interviews I did much earlier that year revolved around two problems Corbyn was facing in squaring his opposition to Trident renewal with political realities. First, it was going ahead. Second, as the submarines are built here, there are a lot of union jobs tied up in them. Corbyn’s brilliant compromise? Build the SSBNs of the Dreadnaught class, just don’t outfit them with the Trident missile.

For his next trick, he will build a fleet of aircraft carriers, without the, you know, aircraft.

Earlier this month, The Economist ran a piece on what a Corbynite foreign policy would look like. This was surprisingly balanced, but ends on these notes:

What will not change, whether Labour or the Conservatives are in Downing Street, is the government’s overestimation of Britain’s clout in the world. Both parties are fond of the tagline “Global Britain”. Yet whoever enters Downing Street will find that life as a medium-sized country in a world of continent-sized rivals is hard. Britain cannot act like a Scandinavian country, using its large aid budget to play an outsized role in the world, points out one former foreign secretary. “Nordics are trusted by people in the international community in a way Brits are not,” he says.

Playing an active role in the Middle East requires winning over not just the Palestinians but Israel and America too, a task for which Mr Corbyn, who has spent his life railing against American imperialism and who failed to root out anti-Semitism within Labour, is uniquely ill-suited. The close intelligence relationship between Britain and America may be jeopardised, given Mr Corbyn’s views and allies. Even British agencies may feel uncomfortable sharing reports with a Downing Street that includes a senior adviser who was a member of the British Communist Party until 2016.

It may be that, rather than charting a radical new course, Britain finds itself bleating from the sidelines, the Foreign Office reduced to little more than an ngo, says Thomas Raines of Chatham House, a think-tank.

* This was back when I did British politics on the BBC, which has an understandably inverse relationship, over time, with my involvement with the Labour Party locally.

UPDATE: The core cult, of course, love this shit, evidenced by this on my fb feed, which I only saw after I hit “post”:

Completely lost to the cult is that “the vast majority of Member States” don’t generally vote in British elections.

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