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

by Rob Marchant

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.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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23 Responses to “Corbyn’s pacifism won’t really affect Britain from opposition, right? Wrong”

  1. Union Jock says:

    I hope Britain continues to become more isolationist and indifferent to the idiotic brawls of foreigners. They are not worth the bones of one Grenadier.

    Labour should stand up for the rights and interests of the British working class, and leave the aliens and infidels to murder one another in peace.

  2. Henrik says:

    No big deal, there’s already a widely-held assumption that Labour is unpatriotic and keen to support any cause which is anti-Western. If (when) Corbyn becomes leader, that’ll merely confirm that prejudice (which I grant you is not wholly justified).

    On balance, I think it’s a good thing that those imbeciles nominated Corbyn – it’s brought a lot of the poison out and a good knock-down, drag-out row is exactly what Labour needed if it’s ever going to be a credible Opposition, never mind a potential government, again. The glorious reign of E Milliband PC MP simply delayed the inevitable civil war, which as a result is going to be twice as nasty as if you guys had got this all out of the way in 2010.

    On foreign affairs generally, I don’t sense any great appetite within Labour to talk about either foreign policy, the UK’s place and role in the world, or national defence. All a bit complicated, of course.

  3. Richard says:

    Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, since when has this been a war zone? The fact is the raid on a house and compound against limited forces could well have made it possible to bring him back for trial given the might of US forces and Corbyn argues that this was a missed opportunity. The question is why did the U.S. Authorities not do so? Perhaps the U.S. didn’t want to discuss the origins when Bin Laden was an ally against the Soviet Union.
    No matter, what is certain is execution squads sent to a country we are not at war with are part of what is seen as immoral by vast numbers of muslims, along with drone attacks in places like Pakistan and military action, including allowing Turkey to bomb Kurds and Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen.
    The question the left asks is what are the reasons behind action in one place and inaction in another or allowing this government to attack people in one country or condemning in another by successive U.S. governments? The answer many on the left come up with is that the actions of the U.S. are all too often about their own global supremacy or economics and it is for this reason people like Corbyn appear anti American.

  4. ex Labour says:

    Corbyn had never really been high on my radar until the leadership contest began. The more I learn about this man makes me scared for the future of Labour as a national party and the country as a whole should Labour be in opposition or in power.

    Corbyn clearly despises the UK and all of its traditions and values and as we saw with Emily Thornberry with her sneering at working class white van man’s patriotism, the public will take this attitude badly and Labour will lose yet more support.

    His foreign policy pronouncements such as they are show that he is still in the student sixth form stage in his political thinking. His apologist views on terrorist ( well at least those who he deems are terrorists for a ” good cause” ) are repugnant and his world view is full of contradictions and hypocrisy.

    I left the Labour fold in 2010 when I saw the early signs of the move to the left. Little did I ever think the party would be so foolish as to go this far. The country needs strong opposition and the party needs balanced sound leadership which the public can support. Corbyn will deliver neither.

  5. Landless Peasant says:

    The amount of anti-Left wing sentiment being expressed on this website beggars belief and just goes to show what a shower of sh1t you all really are, and that Corbyn has got you rattled.

  6. Madasafish says:

    Corbyn supporters had better get used to “explaining what he really meant” if he wins. He has 30 odd years of history that’s available showing his distaste for the UK, the US and his support for terrorism, Islamofascism etc.

    >Landless Peasant.
    Welcome back as I have not read you for a while. I mistook Landed Peasant for you!.

    I read everything you post with great attention – the second best contrarian indicator I know. (The best is Polly – I’m a millionaire with servants but support the workers , tax the rich but my money is in a trust fund so it’s safe – Tonybee )

  7. Richard says:

    Couldn’t agree more landless peasant but keep coming back to comment. Right now people are being drawn into activism and are looking for answers to many questions on sites like this. They need to see the debate taking place or they may well conclude that the articles on here are representative of the Labour Party until the Corbyn left get a website together.
    We are a broad church and that means a wide spectrum of perspectives but the left wing one is what the new activists are looking for, keep giving them hope even though commenting on here makes one feel like I’m banging my head against a wall

  8. Richard says:

    Couldn’t agree more landless peasant but keep coming back to comment. Right now people are being drawn into activism and are looking for answers to many questions on sites like this. They need to see the debate taking place or they may well conclude that the articles on here are representative of the Labour Party until the Corbyn left get a website together.
    We are a broad church and that means a wide spectrum of perspectives but the left wing one is what the new activists are looking for, keep giving them hope even though commenting on here makes one feel like I’m banging my head against a wall.

  9. Tony says:

    What a truly awful article!

    It is interesting that you condemn Corbyn for wanting a trial for Bin Laden but you have never, to my knowledge, condemned the Bush administration and the Federal Aviation Authority for ignoring the numerous warnings about 9/11.

    The Presidential Daily briefing for 6 August 2001 was entitled:

    “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.”

    Bush totally ignored it as he did all the other warnings. I think that some of the warnings also came from Vladimir Putin.

    10 September 2001: Senator Dianne Feinstein stated:

    “One of the things that has begun to concern me very much is as to whether we really have our house in order. Intelligence staff have told me that there is a major possibility of a terrorist incident within the next three months. (CNN conversation with Wolf Blitzer).

    A bin Laden trial might help to expose such criminally negligent behaviour.

    The rest of your article is no better.

    A trial for bin laden might help expose such a

  10. David Walker says:

    The world is a more dangerous place because of intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Several hundred years of blundering into other Middle-Eastern affairs haven’t helped, either.

  11. Jimmy says:

    “If a humanitarian vote could not be won under Miliband, what chance under the chair of the Stop the War Coalition?”

    I’m not sure your logic holds water. Many followed Ed into the lobbies out of loyalty despite deep misgivings. I suspect they’ll feel much freer under Jeremy.

  12. John. P Reid says:

    Landless peasant, and if corbyn wins and labour get destroyed at the next election, you can say at least it upset labour -uncut bloggers

  13. TC says:

    This article is a load of nonsense.

    Corbyn’s comments on Bin Laden have been taken completely out of context. He says, quite reasonably, that Bin Laden should have been brought to trial for his crimes (rather like a certain Anthony Blair), and that his assassination was part of a cycle of tragedy and violence. It’s astonishing that anyone, especially anyone on the left, could find anything objectionable about this.

    Mr Marchant criticises the decision not to intervene in Syria, but neglects to mention the intervention in Libya in 2011. I wonder why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that before the western intervention Libya was the country with the highest HDI in Africa and now it is in chaos, with 2 governments whose writs barely run beyond their own buildings, the country being run by groups of armed men, some of which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State – itself a result, lest we forget, of an ill-fated western intervention in the Middle East. Despite this unmitigated disaster, Mr Marchant supported a similar intervention in Syria, a country and conflict that is more complex and many-sided than Libya and its conflict. What was it that Einstein said about doing the same thing and expecting a different result?

    Finally, I like the way he uses ‘Labour moderates’ as a synonym for the neo-conservative, patriotic penis waving, pro-war, George Bush fellating wing of the party. I suspect that very soon they’ll see that it’s not just the Labour left who are fed up with military adventures in foreign lands that bring nothing but hatred, death and destruction.

  14. Its OK. Relax. This isn’t going to happen. Corbyn has no chance of winning.

    Some guy called Rob Marchant told us so just a few weeks ago. He sounded pretty sure of himself so I suppose he must be right!

  15. Betrayed says:

    I personally hope that ‘Progressive Intervention’ is killed off, buried, and a stake put through its patriarchal heart.

    Let other countries sort out their own democracies, free from this awful smug, self-satisfied, so-superior class that believes that it has the right to run the World.

  16. Tafia says:

    It’s not pacifism, it’s non-interventionism. Totally different thing.

    If you interfere in anotjher country and destabilise it then you as a country have a moral obligation to stay until it ios sorted out, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much it costs and no matter how many of your opwn soldiers die. As a result, we have a mora\l obligation to still have combat soldiers in Afghanistan, combat soldiers in IOraq, combat soldiers in Libya and combat soldiers in Syria. And if you don’t think we do, then you have to accept we shouldn’t have been involved in the first place.

    Don’t go shopping unless you are prepared to pay the butchers bill – in full, cash on demand.

  17. Joe says:

    Yes, why do the right of the party have such an obsession with neocon foreign policy? Surely one can be a centrist on economics whilst not swallowing atlantacist warmongering whole, yet such a creature doesnt seem to exist.

  18. John P Reid says:

    How it’s not all the right of the party,blue labour for inatance

  19. Tafia says:

    Madasafish Corbyn supporters had better get used to “explaining what he really meant”

    Not really. They aren’t explaining what he really meant – they are saying what he actually said and not what garbage newspapers ( including the Independent, Guardian and even TV ) publish as headlines just to fool morons. Only muppets believe headlines.

    Here’s some examples of what Corbyn actaually said verbatim on contentios issues followed by the headlines that the papers ran with.

  20. Union Jock says:

    Corbyn’s ‘wacky’ foreign policies include getting rid of a costly, token nuclear deterrent we could only deploy if the Yanks approved; winding up NATO, only (gasp) 25 years after the Cold War ended; and casting a beadier eye on interventions of choice such as those brilliantly swift successes, Iraq and Libya.

    I think the real British people might be quite ready to listen to such ‘wackiness’, though it might not suit the laptop bombardiers of the Decent Left, the British corresponding members of neoconnerie (Henry Jackson Soc.) or the merchants of capitalist death in the military-industrial-security complex and their media shills.

    Public opinion recently stopped us dropping bombs on this year’s bad guys, ISIS, in Syria. There is a healthy mood of scepticism abroad about the orchestrated clamour for wars which produce no visible benefit for the British. Labour should ride it.

    And if it means losing our permanent seat on the UN Security Council- boo hoo hoo. I dream of a Britain which punches below its weight, when it comes to meddling in foreign quarrels.

  21. Landless Peasant says:

    If Corbyn is leader I will return to voting Labour again.

  22. john P Reid says:

    landless peasant great we’ve got your vote ,a few others shame about the millions we’ll lose to the Libdems

  23. Gino says:

    Let’s set aside the claim Corbyn is a pacifist. He supported, by clear and necessary implication, attacks on British troops. I refer to the statement approved by the officers of the Stop the War coalition, approving the Iraqi resistance in using “whatever means they find necessary” to liberate Iraq from US/UK occupation. That phrase was removed from the final draft after the murder of Ken Bigley. But the dispute was only over whether the coalition should condone killing civilians. Some such as John Rees opined that socialists shouldn’t condemn any actions of the resistance. Others, let’s charitably assume Corbyn was one, opposed killing civilians. Over the legitimacy of attacks on British troops there was no such disagreement.
    As a lifelong leftist I think Corbyn combines all that is corrupt about the modern left. He sat on his hands while children were raped in his Islington constituency despite regular updates from a whistleblower, because the children weren’t the right kind of victim and he describes himself as a friend of an organisation (Hamas) whose constitution commits it to the extermination of the Jewish people. Thankfully the British people have more moral sense that the Labour party which has now consigned itself to the dustbin of history. RIP.

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