Corbyn and Britain’s Foreign Policy Debate
The final result of the Labour leadership contest wasn’t a surprise, but it is one of the more remarkable political stories of the last decade. Despite the disaster of the Iraq war and the financial crisis during on the last Labour government, Blair and his allies were never really fully repudiated for their major failures until last week’s election of a leader on an explicitly anti-Blairite platform. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but the odd thing is that it took the party this long to do it. Corbyn’s win is comparable in some ways to McGovern’s nomination in 1972, and in the near- to medium-term it will probably end up having similar effects on the ability of Labour to win a general election, but it was also an overdue and largely healthy rejection of Blair’s legacy. I doubt it’s possible to explain the size of Corbyn’s victory without acknowledging the extent to which Blair is loathed and distrusted on the British left (and not only on the left).
One of the main reasons for that loathing and distrust was Blair’s incessant interventionism and his habit of backing any and every U.S. military action, so it is understandable that a party that was repudiating Blair would choose a leader who opposed not only the Iraq war, but also opposed the wars in Kosovo and Libya, and who now criticizes British support for the war on Yemen. That by itself could make Corbyn’s tenure as opposition leader valuable for Britain, since it could provide the public there with a meaningful debate on foreign policy that has been mostly missing despite the serial failures of successive British governments. Unlike his predecessor, Ed Miliband, Corbyn can be expected to challenge Cameron on questionable and indefensible policies. Corbyn’s predecessor rarely dissented on foreign policy, and in the Libyan debate threw himself entirely behind intervention there, and even during the 2013 Syria debate his half-hearted opposition was opportunistic in the worst way. Just by criticizing his government’s support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Corbyn has already done more than any leading Western politician on this issue, and we can hope he will be calling more attention to the unnecessary war that the U.S. and Britain are shamelessly enabling.