Displaying the levels of honesty and integrity that we’ve come to expect from New Labour, Gordon Brown said recently that under Jeremy Corbyn “the alliances we favour most [would be] with Hezbollah, Hamas,…..and Vladimir Putin’s totalitarian Russia”.
We have got ourselves into a habit of focusing purely on Tony Blair where the worst of Labour’s foreign policy is concerned. But Brown was guilty of far worse than the bumbling haplessness he became associated with, and his hypocrisy here is quite something to behold.
Brown of course knows perfectly well that Corbyn has never proposed “alliances” with Hamas and Hezbollah, any more than New Labour did with the IRA when it oversaw the conclusion of the Northern Ireland peace process. What Corbyn has said (repeatedly, so there is no excuse for misrepresentation) is that peace can only be reached through dialogue, including with people whose politics we detest. If Brown has a more promising approach toward Israel-Palestine, then he’s been keeping it a closely guarded secret.
In fact, the approach Brown favoured while in office was to mumble pro forma support for the two-state solution while arming Israel as its illegal colonies devoured what was left of any future Palestinian homeland. Even after Israel committed extensive war crimes during its assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09, Brown’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband reflexively denied, but was later forced to admit, that arms sold by the UK had “almost certainly” been used by the Israelis. The Brown government then revoked an absurdly small number of export licences, while allowing the substantive flow of arms to continue, in violation of its own rules that such exports should not “aggravate existing conflicts”.
Indeed, if Brown is so horrified by the idea of having alliances with violent religious extremists then it is difficult to explain why one of his first acts as Prime Minister was to wave through a massive £20bn jet fighter deal with Saudi Arabia. For the past five months, the Saudi Air Force has been waging a brutal bombing campaign in Yemen, carrying out potential war crimes according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, while receiving logistical and technical support and ongoing munitions supplies under the terms of the September 2007 deal, amongst other commitments. The Saudi blockade of an impoverished, import-dependent country has helped push Yemen into the UN’s highest category of humanitarian crisis, with the country now on the brink of famine, 13 million Yemenis in need of emergency aid and 1.4 million driven from their homes.
By the way, it isn’t your fault if you weren’t aware of Britain’s direct complicity in the disaster currently unfolding in Yemen. It’s because our media and political class as a whole have shown next to no interest in reporting or discussing it. It appears that if Jeremy Corbyn tries to promote dialogue with violent extremists in the interests of seeking peace, that constitutes a national scandal and places him beyond the pale. But if successive Labour and Conservative governments arm violent extremist states, even as they commit mass murder and strangle an entire population, that’s barely worthy of a shrug.
As to Russia, the Corbyn-Putin alliance Brown warns against is another figment of the imagination. Again, Corbyn has simply expressed a preference for diplomacy and dialogue, which would certainly be preferable to the sort of macho chest-beating and military posturing which merely aggravate and enable the worst of Putin’s own aggressive instincts, and make a potentially catastrophic East-West conflict more likely. There is something unedifyingly male about portraying a preference for dialogue over confrontation as being unserious or even treacherous. It is also rather forgetful of the lessons New Labour ought to have learned from the Bush-Blair era.
Over the last few weeks, the campaign around Corbyn’s leadership bid has grown into what could be the sort of mass movement for which there has never been a more urgent need. If the neoliberal consensus is allowed to continue unchallenged then Britain will become a harsher, meaner place to live for an increasing number of people, while on a global scale, the frightening consequences of runaway climate change will loom ever larger on the horizon. In terms of foreign relations, a continuation of British militarism under Labour or Conservatives will inflame international dynamics creating suffering in conflict-torn parts of the world. If a real, popular movement can emerge to challenge all this, then standing aside from that effort in distaste at any problematic aspects that arise is simply not a defensible option.
But if that movement is to be effective - and it has to be - then what it and Corbyn needs are critical friends, not cheerleaders whose instinct is to reflexively exonerate. No matter how honourable his intention in trying to create an atmosphere conducive to dialogue, Corbyn’s public reference to “friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah gifted ammunition to the most cynical of his opponents, and thus allowed his own efforts to be misrepresented and undermined. Elsewhere, while it is hard not to believe him when he says that he would never knowingly associate with anti-semites, it is predictable that purveyors of this ancient hatred would lurk around and try to latch onto the Palestinian cause, and Corbyn (and all of us) will need to redouble our efforts to identify and confront such people wherever they appear. On Russia, we will need to ensure that we remain closer to the nuanced, intelligent position of people like Corbyn’s friend, the late great Mark Marqusee, and further from that of certain members of the Stop the War Coalition of which Corbyn is chair.
And when Corbyn is attacked on any of these issues, his campaign will have to drop the naïve idea that accusations go away when you ignore them, and instead allow him to respond immediately, in the heartfelt, genuine and honest way that he is becoming known for. Because it is those qualities, aside from his more enlightened politics, that set him so far apart from his detractors.
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