Labour outsider Jeremy Corbyn could become the ultimate insider
London - As Britain’s Labour Party, reeling from a crushing election defeat, looks set to pivot towards the leadership of left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn, questions are being asked about the foreign policy outlook of a man who famously described Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends”.
Corbyn is leading the Labour leadership race, with some polls putting him comfortably in front of challengers Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.
Corbyn, an old school leftist, represents a break with the New Labour leaders — Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — of the past two decades and their acolytes. He is the only Labour leadership candidate running on an anti-austerity platform and has collected the backing of unions such as Unite and Unison, the two largest unions in the United Kingdom and major backers of the Labour Party.
The outsider, now tipped for leadership, follows a radically different foreign policy than his predecessors. Labour under Corbyn would likely seek to block the majority Conservative government’s renewed presence in the Middle East. Although Labour’s seats in parliament have been greatly reduced, a voting bloc including the left-wing Scottish National Party (SNP) and centrist Liberal Democrats, among others, would be almost strong enough to challenge the Conservative Party.
Corbyn has consistently voted in opposition to military intervention abroad and supports the abolition of the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear weapons programme and withdrawal from NATO.
In a statement carried by his website, Corbyn says: “I have always campaigned against neo-colonial wars that are fought for resources on the pretence of fighting for human rights. We need an understanding of our past and our role in the making of the conflicts today, whether it be the Sykes-Picot Agreement or our interventions in the Middle East post 9/11.”
“I argue for a different type of foreign policy based on political and not military solutions,” he added.
Explaining his “no” vote against British air strikes in Iraq, which came in opposition to Labour’s own voting platform, Corbyn told CNN: “I couldn’t see how [bombing ISIS in Iraq] is going to solve the problem. I could see it extending into a war in Syria. I could see it extending to ground forces. And I could see it creating a sense of martyrdom with ISIS and increasing their strength, not weakening them.”
“The issue has to be solved politically in the whole region, it’s not going to be solved by a war,” he added, saying previous British intervention in the Middle East had “created” huge jihadist forces.
Corbyn came under intense pressure in the British media for referring to Hamas and Hezbollah, groups with ties to proscribed terrorist organisations in the United Kingdom, as “friends” but has largely been able to weather the storm.
In an interview with Channel 4 news, he explained: “I spoke at a meeting about the Middle East crisis in parliament and there were people there from Hezbollah. And I said I welcomed our friends from Hezbollah to have a discussion and a debate and I said I wanted Hamas to be part of that debate. I have met Hamas in Lebanon and I’ve met Hezbollah in this country and Lebanon.”
“I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk… Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. What it means is that I think to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree,” he added.
Many in the left have come out in support of Corbyn, who dismissed the furore surrounding his use of the term “friends” for Hamas and Hezbollah as “tabloid journalism”.
“Jeremy Corbyn gets attacked for saying we should talk to Hamas and Hezbollah but Tony Blair met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal three times in Doha, with David Cameron’s consent. One rule for warmongers another for peace activists?” asked political analyst Charles B. Anthony.
Corbyn is a well-known member of the Stop the War Coalition and was elected national chairman of the group in 2001 to help mobilise opposition to the Afghanistan war. He was also a fierce opponent of the Iraq war, speaking at anti-war rallies in Britain and overseas and played a major role in organising the largest political protest in modern British history, when more than 1 million people marched in the streets of London against the Iraq war.
Labour’s new leader is to be announced during a special conference September 12th.