Imperialist no more? Corbyn’s foreign policy would transform Britain’s global role
Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a press conference in London, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, ahead of the general election on Dec. 12. | Alberto Pezzali / AP

The U.K. will hold a general election on Dec. 12, 2019. Following is a guest op-ed from Steve Sweeney, international editor of Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper. Sweeney explains the positive changes in foreign policy that would become possible if Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn unseats Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

On Dec. 12, we have the chance to make a change that will lead to a most fundamental shift in Britain’s foreign policy and a major step toward making the world safer and more peaceful. Britain has slavishly followed U.S. foreign policy since its own decline as the leading world imperialist power following the two world wars and the subsequent so-called cold war.

Tory (Conservative) governments have supported every brutal regime and dictatorship in history, from the Pinochet military junta in Chile to the South African apartheid government which jailed Nelson Mandela, denying rights to the country’s black majority.

But they have also been joined by Labour governments in overtly and covertly supporting a series of wars, politically, militarily, and often both.

It was Labour under Tony Blair that took the country into illegal wars and occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving one million people dead and giving impetus to jihadist organizations al-Qaida and ISIS.

An estimated two million people took to the streets in what is believed to be the largest protest in history in February 2003 as they said no to Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq. The demonstration and public distaste after the claims of WMD turned out to be a lie and the invasion proved to be nothing more than a grab for Iraqi oil and regional supremacy made it harder for governments to go to war in such an open manner. Clandestine operations have continued across the world, however, including in Syria.

And in 2011, British forces joined the NATO bombing of Libya, which led to the overthrow and bloody execution of Muammar Gadhafi, who just a few years before was welcomed by Blair as an ally in an infamous desert meeting in a tent. What followed has led to continued instability and chaos in Libya with the rise of competing jihadist groups and parallel governments vying for control.

It also led directly to terror attacks in Britain with MI5 said to be complicit in facilitating the passage between Libya and Britain of 2017 Manchester bomber Salman Abedi. That atrocity caused the deaths of 23 people, mainly children attending an Ariana Grande concert.

Abedi was part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), proscribed as a terrorist organization in Britain as part of an “al-Qaida-inspired” global Islamist extremist movement aiming to create a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya. British members of the group—known as the “Manchester boys”—were deemed to be high risk and subject to control orders as recently as 2011.

However, when there were signs of an uprising against Gadhafi, the control orders were lifted and many had their passports returned and were allowed to board flights to Tripoli. Abedi is reported to have been placed on a “terrorist watch list” by the FBI who warned MI5 that he and his group were looking for a “political target” in Britain. However, he was allowed to re-enter the country unchallenged to commit the atrocity in Manchester.

One voice that stood out as a backbencher opposing those wars, speaking out both in Parliament and on numerous platforms across the country as the chair of the Stop the War Coalition could be Prime Minister in just a few days’ time.

It is precisely because of his foreign policy positions that Corbyn finds himself under attack both from the right and also from within his own party.

Accusations of support for terrorism ring hollow, with attempts to link him to support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) risible, given the Tory government was openly holding meetings with men in balaclavas as they welcomed loyalist paramilitaries into Westminster.

Declassified papers have revealed that while Thatcher was publicly talking tough about not negotiating with terrorists, this was media-driven posturing as negotiations were taking place between herself and IRA go-betweens during the 1981 hunger strikes.

But as history has proven, Corbyn was ahead of the game. His meetings were not with the IRA as erroneously and deliberately claimed, but with members of Sinn Fein, which was and remains a legal political party, whether you agree with it or not.

It was this that paved the way for talks with successive governments to conclude the historic Good Friday Agreement with a power-sharing deal and a peace, however fragile it has seemed at times, in the north of Ireland.

In Latin America, Corbyn has refused to back imperialist regime change in Venezuela and, more recently, the successful fascist coup in Bolivia. The support and solidarity of the British people has been cited as a major factor behind the release of Cuba’s Miami Five—jailed for 13 years for fighting U.S.-sponsored terrorism in their own country.

Corbyn also supports an end to the crippling U.S. economic blockade of Cuba which costs the economy around $1.2 billion a year and has seen the socialist island lose an estimated $753.69 billion over almost six-decades.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Don’t Attack Iraq demonstration on Feb. 15, 2003, the largest political protest in U.K. history. | Jeremy Corbyn Channel via YouTube

Corbyn’s stance on these issues positions sees him more aligned with the public, who want a different foreign policy, than with the imperialist self-interest of Britain and the U.S., who sow instability and seek intervention in countries pursuing a progressive agenda.

While the Tories have gone to court to ensure Britain can continue selling arms to the reactionary Saudi regime which has bombed Yemen to the brink of the world’s worst famine for a century, a Corbyn government will block this deadly trade.

Individually, Corbyn has supported the Kurds’ national struggle against oppression and will block arms sales to Turkey if they are being used in breach of international law.

Corbyn’s international politics are long-standing, including his arrest at an anti-apartheid demonstration in London while the Tories were calling Mandela a terrorist with their student wing famously wearing t-shirts calling for him to be hanged.

A woman walks past a Jeremy Corbyn mural in Camden, London. | Frank Augstein / AP

But it is one policy above all that has led him to be targeted from all sides, including by some of his own MPs—his decision to recognize the state of Palestine. This would be the most fundamental and decisive shift in foreign policy and a clear break from the U.S. at a time when the Trump administration is escalating regional tensions.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel inflamed regional tensions, which was intensified by the move to recognize the Syrian Golan Heights—stolen during the 1967 Six-Day-War—as Israel’s sovereign territory.

But Corbyn’s common sense stance represents a chance to bring peace to the Middle East and the world. Recognition of a Palestinian state is crucial to this and has huge international support. It would also bring the Oslo Accords and a two-state solution closer to reality.

This position is not anti-Semitic, nor is support for the Palestinians. Once we cut through the smears and the attacks levied against Corbyn—a lifelong fighter against racism, whose parents met fighting against Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirt fascists during the Battle of Cable Street in East London in 1936—it is the only policy that can help make the world a safer place.

Corbyn is right to label Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson “the world’s leading sycophant towards Trump.”

But another world is possible—a foreign policy based on solidarity and cooperation as laid out by Labour, or one based on war, profit, and destruction offered by the Tories.

Morning Star


Steve Sweeney
Steve Sweeney

Steve Sweeney writes for Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist. Steve Sweeney escribe para Morning Star, el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña. También es miembro del Comité Nacional de la Asamblea Popular, patrocinador de la campaña Paz en Kurdistán y un orgulloso sindicalista.