Friday, 21 August 2015

The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn's Foreign Policy

There is no doubt Jeremy Corbyn's stand on Iraq and on foreign policy is 'principled'; the question not addressed by Owen Jones is whether they are always logical, coherent and based on a real understanding of international power politics. The inference as regards Tony Blair is that he was somehow not 'principled'.

There is no evidence Blair was ever an outright cynic who use humanitarian rhetoric to advance the case for either the war in Afghanistan or Iraq: to him 'liberal intervention' was part of his concept of what the believed 'internationalist' idea of the British Labour Party should mean in the 21st century.

However, in one important way, Corbyn is no different that the liberal interventionists who supported military action in both Iraq and Afghanistan. For Corbyn is still a militant progressive who does not believe in the existence of evil as a persistent and ineradicable feature of human existence.

This means Corbyn refuses to accept that there are actually limits to what Britain could achieve in the world if it pursued a real version of the 'ethical foreign policy' promised by Robin Cook back in 1997. Corbyn believes more fervently than Blair that purity of motive should animate the spirit of Britain's global role.

Yvette Cooper, Corbyn's rival for the Labour leadership, has maintained Corbyn is not an 'internationalist' because she wants to portray him as as an 'isolationist' and so a threat to Britain's role as a 'global player'. His is not. He rejects the attempt to play this role through unquestioning partnership with the US.

Scepticism about American global policy, however, is different from the ideological anti-Americanism. This holds to the position that the root of most evil in the Middle East has either been caused historically or at present by a hypocritical US imperial project that prates about human rights as a fig leaf for resource wars.

This was clear with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But Corbyn also asserts that any attempt by the West to use war as a means of removing evil states, which is really based on securing oil and gas or minerals, is not only hypocritical but is bound to be seen as such by those in the 'liberated' lands and so resisted.

The danger is that the line between dislike for hypocrisy and sympathy with those resisting by whatever means possible in Iraq gets blurred in the statements of some of the spokesmen in the in the StWC such as Tariq Ali who lauded the 'Iraqi resistance' despite it consisting strongly of Baathists and jihadists.

Ali was typical of some StwC activists who were praying for some unified Iraqi National Liberation Front when there was no evidence for that over the growth of sectarian divisions that existed long before the invasion. The Baathists and Sunni jihadists groups have reformed as ISI and then as ISIS. 

So unfairly, Corbyn is going to be the accused of aligning with lots of people who supported 'the resistance' against 'imperialist' occupation and who are very far removed from pacifism either in sentiment or in the sort of groups abroad whose violence they regard as serving a liberating purpose.

The most obvious example of what is regarded as 'appeasing terrorism' is Corbyn's belief Hamas and Hezbollah are guerilla resistance movements who respond in kind to Israeli hatred, persecution and what Corbyn called its "military ethnic cleansing" of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008.

The Israel-Palestine conflict, however, hardly goes on simply because Britain tends to do nothing to stop Israel or criticise it other than waffle about its 'right to defence'. Corbyn is deluded that the Israel-Palestine conflict is similar to the low intensity conflict in Northern Ireland that ended in 1999 with peace talks.

The Israel-Gaza wars may not have a military solution but there is no indication Israel does not think it cannot succeed in provoking Hamas into retaliation as a pretext to 'demilitarise' Gaza further and destroy missile stocks that would threaten its secure control over the Gaza Marine gas reserves.

The conflicts in the Middle East are far more intractable than Northern Ireland as they revolve around not only old ethnic-sectarian animosities but also increasingly a life and death struggle for control over resources from water to oil. Sanctions might make a difference but Israel is no longer dependent on the US or EU.

Moreover, there is very little Britain could do to prevent the vicious proxy wars between Sunni and Shi'ite militants in the Middle East which is helping to create the chaos in which ISIS thrives. Sunni-Shia enmity has also driven Hamas and Hezbollah apart, so that both are hostile to each other as well as Israel.

One thing Britain could do is move away from being so blinded by Saudi oil wealth. The lucrative arms deals with Riyadh do not 'purchase influence' should be dropped by export bans on arms along with ditching the policy of forthrightly aligning with a state that bankrolls Sunni jihadists across the Greater Middle East.

In this sense, Corbyn is both more of a realist that Blair, Brown or Cameron. They all seemed to think a geopolitical strategy of 'Democracy Promotion', one that depended on working with regional powers that are themselves autocracies, would bring about Arab democracies led by 'moderate rebels' against dictatorship.

Corbyn is also right that involving Iran as part of a negotiated regional peace settlement would be the best way forward over Syria. But he was hardly unique in that respect and there is no guarantee either Saudi Arabia or Iran is going to be persuaded by Corbyn to just stop their Gulf Power rivalry.

The difference between Corbyn and Blair is that Blair believes evil could be overcome by decisive military action in benighted lands. Corbyn, however, believes that the world would be set aright through Britain being a leading global player promoting peace and by non-military intervention and moral example.

Corbyn's foreign policy is firmly in the tradition of Tony Benn, CND and post-war liberal left 'eggheads' led by the sort of radical with beards and placards who used to march in their anoraks to Aldermaston and listen to Bertrand Russell. Whatever one thought of it, that peace movement was principled.

It is difficult to be so convinced that the StwC has much moral authority. The problem with the 'anti-war movement' that stands behind Corbyn is that it was united by that which it was against rather than that which it was for. This meant it was dominated by radical ideologues of the SWP and Islamist back in 2003.

Jones calls for anti-semitism to be 'recognised, routed out and defeated'. But it is in part a manifestation the paranoid belief that Israel and the lobby was telling the US to invade Iraq and because Iraq was Muslim and the West is an evil imperialist force in league with Zionists. There was no attempt to challenge that.

The reasons for that run deeper in the core ideology of the 'progressive movement' that Jones wants to believe. The problem with Corbyn is that he appears to pander to this sort of worldview. When  interviewed by  RT over ISIS, the switch to what the US did back in 2005 in Fallujah clearly plays to the gallery.

The usual charge is that anti-war spokesmen advocate a paralysing form of 'moral relativism'. This appears to be given credence when Corbyn is portrayed by Blair's ex-spin doctor John McTernan, in a report carried by the Daily Telegraph, that ISIS is 'the same' as the US.

In fact, he did not actually do that and he was quoted from an RT interview out of context, though he seemed to soft pedal over ISIS atrocities as 'brutalities', perhaps, because he is not as interested in them as he is in what 'the West' or the US is doing in its air war against the Islamic State.

“Yes they are brutal, yes some of what they have done is quite appalling, likewise what the Americans did in Fallujah and other places is appalling”

If anybody watches the interview in full it becomes clear what Corbyn meant was that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the napalming of Fallujah created a resentment in Sunni Arab regions of Iraq that ISIS had tapped into and used to swell recruits for its insurgency.

Corbyn blames the West and 'imperialism' of course and points out the sectarian nature of the Maliki government at the time, one that was backed and supported by Iran, something Corbyn omits to mention because he wants to pretend that a secular democratic Iraq is the 'real' alternative.

The irony is that was precisely what the neoconservatives and Blair believed was the case if they knocked out the secular dictator Saddam. Even if the chaos and rise of ISIS is rightly claimed to be the consequence of the invasion, and the Saudi financing of jihadists, Corbyn sees this as a result of 'imperialism'

Corbyn does so because he wants to hold out for the idea of a non-sectarian resistance force equally opposed to both western imperialism and sectarian politics. At the same time he has to see this as imperial divide-and-rule as that feeds into the idea most Muslims are all somehow naturally aligned with each other.

The idea that Saudi Arabia is an 'obedient client state' of the US, as Chomsky claims in his Making the Future is ludicrous. Riyadh is contemptuous of Washington and its withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011 and it wants the US to shoulder the burden of protecting it from ISIS blowback.

If it were not for the danger ISIS poses to Iraqi oil and the contribution it makes to keeping the oil price low enough for the East Asian economies, which in turn produce relatively low cost goods needed to prop up consumer spending in the West, it is unlikely the US be that interested in the region.

However, the 'Chomsky' position offers hope to British leftists who are as militant as Blair in thinking that Britain is a Global Player and Internationalist Force for Good, that the world will be made a better place if Britain shows how non-intervention and giving up imperialism shall make the world peaceful.

The reason, apart from wanting strength of support in numbers, is that he accepts the idea of unique Muslim victimhood as the consequence of what 'we' do to 'them' and so a new unified 'we' in which Muslims and non-Muslims are in 'solidarity' against 'imperialism'. It's a very simplistic ideological worldview.

The hazard of such a position is that

Britain has not really been an imperial power since the 1960s. The illusion it could and should revive its role as such is as much an illusion shared by those who wanted an uncritical 'shoulder to shoulder' alignment with the US as with those who think that if the UK rejected the US it would have world shaking consequences.

Britain is not 'the West' in superpower terms and so the question then for the left has to be what it would rather have in place of NATO. Corbyn is reported to be 'sceptical' of NATO expansion and its role in Eastern Europe but that does not really mean much other than he does not like its role there.

That is not say there are not great benefits to non-intervention. In fact, Britain should always advocate diplomacy as opposed to war and try to avoid futile entanglements abroad. But this would create no world shaking revolutionary change nor necessarily lead to peace and harmony in conflict ridden regions.

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