Corbyn’s Foreign Policy, not May’s, is Stable and Sensible
Jeremy Corbyn has the best, strongest, and most stable foreign policy platform of the two major parties this election.
Now, I know many of you disagree with this. You consider the doomsday scenarios, where Vladolf Putitler marches his storm-Cossacks across Europe. As before, the weak Europeans, lacking British grit and determination, topple like dominoes, leaving plucky Britain alone once again to face off against the massed forces of darkness. In such a situation we need someone like Thereston Maychill to stand on the white cliffs, steely glint in her eyes and firm set to her jaw, holding back the swarms of foreign invaders through sheer grit and determination. We would have no time to indulge the well-meaning but naive appeasements of the peaceniks and yoghurt weavers from the out of touch hippy enclaves of Islington and Liverpool. Such a scenario requires strength, stability, loyalty, and good old British gumption.
What’s actually going to happen in the next four years, however, will not actually follow that script. Real life rarely looks like Michael Bay directing Gregory Peck. Vladmir Putin will, indeed, engage in various moves to consolidate and expand his sphere of influence, but none of them will equate to anything even vaguely resembling a justification for using Trident. It will mostly play out in the areas where Russia’s sphere of influence butts against the EU, and as such our recent request to be excluded will likely diminish the extent to which anyone cares for our input.
Meanwhile, Actual Current President of the United States Donald Trump, who is by his own words and actions undeniably a big fan of Vladmir Putin, will need a war. I know many people have forgotten about him, blanked out the unbelievable fact that the most powerful man in the world is, in fact, Donald Trump, but nevertheless he still exists. Further, if he gets his way and passes his astonishingly punitive American Health Care Act in the Senate, he will need something to distract the American electorate from the sudden and catastrophic spike in dead grandmothers.
As is his tried and true strategy, Mr Trump will launch a new enterprise, structured in such a way as to guarantee his own personal enrichment at the expense of anyone foolish enough to get into his orbit, or “allies” as he will refer to them. We will be presented with a proposition to get in on the ground floor of Trump War plc, managed by Jared Kushner. It could be in Syria, or North Korea, or somewhere new. We have no way of predicting that yet.
On joining in that venture, we’ll be beholden to “the whims of an erratic President,” as Corbyn said. Intelligence shared with our supposed ally might be given away to Putin anyway, not for any strategic purpose but just so Trump can look important in front of their ambassador by bragging about what he knows. The strategy of the war will likely not simply creep, but bounce around from one day to the next as Trump changes his mind over what looks likely to give him a personal “win,” regardless of the impact on his own armed forces, let alone any of his allies.
We’ll have a stark choice. Will we, like hundreds of rubes and marks before us, get swept up by the baseless and contradictory promises of the Trump machine and find ourselves trapped in a deeply ill thought out venture, except this time with literal blood spilled? Or will we, as many sensible investors now know to do, steer a course as far away from Trump’s self-serving accumulative ambitions and general feckless arrogance as possible?
I don’t believe that most politicians — with certain ambitious and authoritarian exceptions — actively seek out war. However many will still find themselves, when it emerges as an option, throwing their support behind it. There is a contradiction behind this: the inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities of politicians leave them caught in a bind of going along with the furies of whipped up nationalistic fervour. In order to project an image of strength, they capitulate to the clamour for increasingly aggressive postures, until they have no choice but to follow through and commit soldiers to foolhardy wars which they know, but can’t admit without losing face, will benefit nobody.
That so much of the debate in this country revolves around the Trident boondoggle is testament to this process of appearance vs pragmatic and cool headed analysis. Nukes are definitionally weapons of political posture rather than of tactical use. During the Cold War, the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine benefited the USA and USSR by providing a natural barrier between the increasingly inflamed rhetoric on both sides, and the chance that such rhetoric would escalate to the point of one of them going Full Napoleon and actually having to invade the other. The President of the USA — again, I will remind you that this is currently Donald Trump — holds sole authority to push “the button” because the Truman administration and associated Congress rightly concluded that dropping an atomic bomb was a political, rather than military, act
Nuclear weapons were, for much of their history after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, designed to be had rather than used. Their value as “deterrence” is much vaunted, but any case in which the use of nuclear weapons was warranted would be a case in which we’d already lost, at least in practical terms. While one side or the other may emerge from a nuclear conflagration as king of the glowing ashes until nuclear winter puts paid to everyone except the cockroaches and bacteria, such a victory would be the ultimate example of symbolism winning over reality.
Nukes are a symbol of strength, rather than an actual strength. It is no surprise in the current climate, when many of us feel so helpless and out of control, that the certainties of symbolic power appeal to many of us, nor that the idea of evaluating symbols pragmatically as tactical weapons rather than as expressions of our national greatness makes us feel uncomfortable.
The Tory appeals to strength, and its strategy of standing up to those European heathens, rely on this foundation. Elections are much more about character and instinct than policy (as evidenced by the huge polling disconnect between Corbyn’s popular policies and the man himself). Many will vote against him not because they necessarily disagree with any specific thing, but because it sticks in their craw to be associated with the peacenik, vegetarian, war-protesting left and its lack of enthusiastic patriotism. Cornyn is symbolically “weak” compared to May’s promise to stick it to the traitorous French — most recently showing their tendency to surrender by not electing a Nazi to fight the Muslims.
A similar tendency towards symbols over cool headed analysis should lead us to fear the fallout of a Trump led war. By the evidence of his actions up to now, such a war will be “barbaric and savage.” Trump appears to genuinely believe that the USA has been hamstrung abroad by liberal codes of engagement which sacrificed US strategic advantage on the altar of fewer dead “Radical Muslims.” Such an attitude has already led to an uptick in civilian deaths. A formal war would result in “the gloves are off” rhetoric being translated into mass bombings.
When the Labour Manifesto was leaked, many leaped upon a statement that “we will never send our Armed Forces personnel into harm’s way unless all other options have been exhausted” as signalling some kind of spineless intent to capitulate to the first invader who came calling. The Sun published a list of wars Corbyn hasn’t supported with the numbers of British dead next to them. The intention, it appeared, was to suggest that wars in which British soldiers died were justified because of these dead soldiers. That such a formulation creates a form of moral hazard which encourages leaders to send more British soldiers to their death seemed not to occur to the Sun editors (as, indeed, anything that requires introspection over outrage rarely does).
I admit I find this instinct alien. I don’t remember my school days being a hotbed of socialist indoctrination, yet like many we read the poems of Wilfred Owen in English class. “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,” Owen admonished us from his grave, “you would not tell with such high zest… the old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.”
In opposing that same war, Siegfried Sassoon railed against “the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed,” as well as “the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.” Decades later the BBC comedy Blackadder would effectively skewer WWI leaders as braying ignoramuses sending millions to be pointlessly chewed up by machine gun fire.
It is a sign of the deep power of nationalistic symbolism that we more eagerly believe that each conflict is a battle against evil than that it is a blundering clusterfuck of mission creep and incompetence. Our leaders, whom we normally distrust and skewer, get carte blanche to lie to us that their new pet project is WWII rather than WWI, Vietnam, or Iraq, and each time we are fooled and surprised when soldiers are sent home bagged and tagged with nothing to show for it. I understand the instinct to believe that there must have been some rationale underlying these sacrifices, but letting such instincts take over simply empowers incompetent leaders to send off other soldiers on fool’s errands. Presuming them to be competent in the management of war when they frequently fail to pull off an IT procurement project is, frankly, a dangerous omission of our own democratic responsibilities.
War is akin to chemotherapy. In the stark calculus of life, sometimes the choice is as blatant as dying of cancer or taking a risk on a treatment which will poison you so badly that your hair will fall out in clumps. No sensible doctor would suggest chemotherapy unless it was absolutely necessary, and none would suggest it if there wasn’t a strong likelihood it would produce positive results. Researchers trying to find less poisonous treatments for cancer aren’t doing so because they are irrationally “pro cancer” but because the blunt tool of chemotherapy, while effective, is horrendously punitive to the body it’s used to save.
Recognising that war is a destructive blunt instrument which is sometimes necessary but only in very specific circumstances isn’t wild leftist pacifism — it’s an acknowledgement of the facts as they stand. Cheering and chomping at the bit to send soldiers off before other options have been exhausted is irresponsible. Doing so in order to build up nationalist sentiment and shore up your political ratings at home is abhorrent.
NATO is reportedly “bracing” for its first meeting with The Donald, trying to get everyone to work to the short attention span of the President by keeping their presentations between 2–4 minutes. “It’s like they’re preparing to meet with a child,” one source told Foreign Policy magazine. This should not fill us with confidence and should in fact serve as a stark warning to steer clear of military adventurism for as long as Trump is in charge.
In the face of an American President of such deeply untrustworthy and erratic character, other countries should be exercising extreme caution of their own to avoid getting drawn into his orbit. Corbyn has the kinds of instincts which would keep us out of Trump’s wars. May, unfortunately, has the instincts that would see us limpet onto him at the first opportunity. There is only one sensible choice here.