The urgent requirement for Jeremy Corbyn to be a shining beacon for the international Left by departing from the current, intensely harmful foreign policy orthodoxy cannot be underestimated. A new socialist foreign policy condemning evil in all its malign manifestations must be a priority for a future Labour government.
There is a bitter irony about Theresa May’s recent decision to sanction missile strikes in Syria, in reaction to the ‘barbaric‘ chemical attacks committed by the Assad regime. On one hand, May condemns the actions of an authoritarian regime as being totally at odds with the values of liberal democracy. On the other, her government continues to sell weapons to Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, so it can drop bombs in Yemen – fuelling the exacerbating humanitarian crisis in the region. Are the U.K government concerned about the 1 million Yemenis suffering from cholera and diarrhea? Are their consciences irked into action by the deaths of at least Yemeni 5295 (itself a conservative estimate) at the hands of bombing by the Saudi Coalition? No. Boris Johnson will sleep soundly at night as Palestinians are shot for peacefully protesting. Here we see the dark, capricious truth about U.K foreign policy – and indeed about western policy more broadly – it is awash with harrowing hypocrisy, dismissing morality in the name of profit.
While the calamitous Conservative government remains, there will be no departure from this age-old hypocrisy. Neoliberal politicians continue to profess the paramountcy of human rights and respect for freedom, while selling arms and strengthening political relations with authoritarian regimes. Take Turkey as a case in point: President Erdogan continues to strip away remnants of democracy, crushing any opposition to his rule, dramatically increasing press censorship to a draconian degree and mostly recently, launching Operation ‘Olive Branch’ (answers on a postcard if you can conjure a better oxymoron) to crush the democratic confederalist revolution in Afrin. It is difficult to find concern for self determination and freedom in Erdogan’s ‘modern’ Turkey. It is impossible to find a reason why Western socialist parties should support the Turkish regime.
Imperialism, and the symbiotic disregard for human life attached, must always be condemned by the radical Left. Far too long, British foreign policy has been too reliant on the whim of the American administration: Bush invades Iraq on false pretences (don’t forget, WMD’s were never located), Britain follows; Trump bombs Syria, May bypasses parliament and follows suit, despite negligible evidence for their effectiveness. Invasions and bombs do not solve conflict. In many cases – including the coalition invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – such actions only help situations to destabilise and deteriorate. Instead, the Left needs a radical departure. Corbyn could do far worse than to build a foreign policy around the sentiments of the late, great Tony Benn when he said: “If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people”. Rather than champion interventionism, which always comes with death, destruction and lack of contingency, the Labour party should seek to develop a foreign policy that holds human life as its absolute maxim.
This may seem like a simple notion, but consider the parameters. Upholding such a maxim would allow a socialist government to depart from foreign policy convention. Upholding such a maxim would allow for condemnation of authoritarian states like Erdogan’s Turkey, the values of which are truly incompatible with socialist democracy. Upholding such a maxim would allow for the support of flourishing national liberation movements, like that in the aforementioned Afrin, crafted against the backdrop of ongoing persecution and the ashes of Daesh. It would allow for the Labour movement to organise, beginning to hold conversations about the futility of maintaining the Trident weapons system. In the latter, we can see how a new attitude to foreign policy would allow a Corbyn government to transcend its limitations. Foreign policy could be one constituent in a wider transformation democracy, a process which engages with citizens frequently as opposed to seeing them as a stat on canvassing spreadsheet. After all, Corbynism ceases to be Corbynism – a radical departure from stagnate, pro austerity centrism – if it failures to change all areas of government policy.
For now Benn’s powerful words ring true. Money can be found to bomb Syria (lots of money: 6.32 million for 8 ‘Stormshadow’ missiles), yet how much will go helping to reconstruct the region once the civil war has ended? Money continues to be drawn from arms sales to countries classified by the Freedom House Index as ‘unfree’, yet money cannot be found to fix the failing education system or NHS, now labelled a “humanitarian crisis” by the British Red Cross. We see here an uncomfortable truth: Austerity politics is a myth perpetuated by neoliberal political elites, with total disregard for the those it detrimentally effects – namely the most vulnerable. With such a blasé attitude to UK citizens, it should come as little surprise May and her cabal cabinet don’t flinch when it comes to cultivating a despicable foreign policy. The left can, and must, conceptualize something better. An ethical, transparent foreign policy to lead the world, rather than set it alight. A foreign policy for humanity, not the few corporate behemoths and unjust dictatorships.
Featured Image Credit: Georgios Giannopoulos