Cor­byn re­sets US ‘spe­cial re­la­tion­ship’

Lesotho Times - - Opinion - shabi is a jour­nal­ist and author. Rachel Shabi

THE joke typ­i­cally goes that if you want to know what Bri­tish for­eign pol­icy is, ask the US state depart­ment. The “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” be­tween both coun­tries has long been viewed through this lens, re­gard­less of what shade of pol­i­tics, left or right, has been in power.

Coined by Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill, the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship is a close al­liance span­ning defence and diplo­macy. The US, to be clear - as is ap­par­ently now the trend — has been polyamorous, in the sense that it has “spe­cial re­la­tion­ships” with other coun­tries, too.

But from the Bri­tish side of the At­lantic, the al­liance was set in stone by Con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher and US Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, who were ide­o­log­i­cal BFFS. The ex­tent of this was summed up by Thatcher when she told the pres­i­dent: “Your prob­lems will be our prob­lems, and when you look for friends, we shall be there.”

The dy­namic turned even closer with Labour Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair and Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush dur­ing the post-9/11 years. Blair took Bri­tain into the il­le­gal, cat­a­strophic Iraq war of 2003, es­sen­tially mak­ing this USled, Un-by­pass­ing in­va­sion pos­si­ble.

En­ters Cor­byn ForFo many on the Bri­tish left, this re­la­tion­ship seemsse one-sided and ob­se­quious — cor­rod­ing the UK’S stand­ing in the world. Per­haps the only redeem­ing thing aboutabou the UK film, Love Ac­tu­ally,Actu re­leased in 2003, was the sight of a fic­tional UK primep min­is­ter, played by HughHug Grant, stand­ing up to the USU pres­i­dent (Billy Bob Thorn­ton), call­ing him a bully and declar­ing an end to an abu­sive bi­na­tional re­la­tion­­la­tionsh It was a silly con­struct, but I don’t k know any­one who didn’t punch the air dur­ing that scene.

But now, Labour hasha a leader who doesn’t view global pol­i­tics in the same way.

Jeremy Cor­byn, the un­ex­pected and un­spun 66-year-old who heads the party af­ter a land­slide lead­er­ship vic­tory, is big on par­tic­i­pa­tory pol­i­tics and firmly anti-aus­ter­ity. He is also a vo­cal critic of im­pe­ri­al­ism, in­ter­ven­tion­ism and mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion. Com­ing from a decades-long tra­di­tion of grass­roots hu­man rights-cham­pi­oning left­ist-in­ter­na­tion­al­ism, one of the first things Cor­byn said dur­ing his lead­er­ship bid was that Bri­tain should apol­o­gise for the Iraq war. Since then, he has sig­nalled his sup­port for a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion to the war in Syria, spo­ken out against the hu­man rights record of Saudi Ara­bia, and made clear his op­po­si­tion to re­newal of Bri­tain’s Tri­dent nu­clear defence sys­tem.

Labour’s for­eign pol­icy is yet to be for­mu­lated, but its leader’s take is a sharp tack away from the broadly pro-us po­si­tion that has de­fined Bri­tish pol­i­tics for so long. The trou­ble for Cor­byn is that the par­lia­men­tary Labour Party and his hastily ap­pointed shadow cabi­net do not nec­es­sar­ily share his views.

His shadow for­eign sec­re­tary, Hi­lary Benn, holds sharply di­ver­gent be­liefs - and the party has al­ready made the dif­fer­ences of opin­ion known pub­licly. The trou­ble for them is that for­eign pol­icy for Cor­byn is a core part of his po­lit­i­cal per­sona and his ap­peal.

At a time when the Bri­tish pub­lic is cyn­i­cal over the coun­try’s re­cent in­ter­ven­tions, Cor­byn’s mes­sage is highly res­o­nant among a rein­vig­o­rated elec­torate, tens of thou­sands of whom joined the party af­ter Cor­byn be­came leader and thou­sands of whom turn up to ral­lies to hear him speak. some is­sues are eas­ier than oth­ers. For in­stance, over the ques­tion of Bri­tain’s mem­ber­ship in the EU, which will likely be put to ref­er­en­dum in 2016, there is broad agree­ment that the UK should stay in, al­beit with caveats over strength­en­ing worker’s rights.

Room for ma­noeu­vre

In other ar­eas, there has been room for ma­noeu­vre. Speak­ing at the re­cent an­nual Labour Party con­fer­ence in Brighton, Hi­lary Benn said that Labour would sup­port UK ac­tion, ex­cept the de­ploy­ment of ground troops, in Syria.

But the next day, a res­o­lu­tion pro­posed by Bri­tain’s big­gest union, Unite, was passed, more in line with Cor­byn’s view, that stated the Labour Party would not sup­port a par­lia­men­tary vote for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion against the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL) un­less it had UN sup­port. This res­o­lu­tion was part of a diplo­matic push and guar­an­teed asy­lum to Syr­i­ans flee­ing their coun­try.the res­o­lu­tion isn’t bind­ing, but there is an ex­pec­ta­tion that MPS will re­spect it. Con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron is likely to raise the is­sue in par­lia­ment - even though Rus­sian air strikes have clouded the UK’S case for in­ter­ven­tion.

Clearly, this Syria vote will be a test of Cor­byn’s author­ity - es­pe­cially since some 50 to 100 Labour MPS, in­clud­ing shadow cabi­net mem­bers, have sig­nalled that they might sup­port the Con­ser­va­tive.

On Tri­dent, there’s less wig­gle room. When Cor­byn, in a TV in­ter­view, said he would not launch nu­clear weapons if he were prime min­is­ter, he sparked crit­i­cism from Benn and also shadow defence sec­re­tary, Maria Ea­gle. Cor­byn is right to claim that his lead­er­ship vic­tory has given him a man­date. More­over, the de­bate over the re­newal of a Cold War-era defence sys­tem is long over­due. But, un­like the Syria is­sue, Tri­dent re­newal is the party po­si­tion and has wide­spread sup­port. Panic in the es­tab­lish­ment

But other sig­nals made dur­ing the Labour leader’s re­cent speech at a party con­fer­ence in Brighton in­di­cated the kind of global causes he would bring into the po­lit­i­cal main­stream. Cor­byn called for Cameron to “in­ter­vene now, per­son­ally” with the Saudi Ara­bian regime to re­lease Ali Mo­hammed al-nimr, a blog­ger con­demned to ex­e­cu­tion. His was a wider shot at Bri­tain’s un­crit­i­cal ties to the re­pres­sive king­dom.

It’s pre­cisely this sort of pol­i­tics that chimes with large sec­tions of the Bri­tish pub­lic. It also lays out the con­text of Cameron’s ref­er­ence, dur­ing his speech at the Con­ser­va­tive Party’s an­nual con­fer­ence, to Cor­byn as hold­ing a “se­cu­rity-threat­en­ing, ter­ror­ist-sym­pa­this­ing, Bri­tain-hat­ing” ide­ol­ogy.

In this con­text, the strug­gle for Labour’s leader and his sup­port­ers will be to re­claim what it means to be pro-bri­tish, carv­ing out a space for poli­cies more in line with a Cor­byn­style in­ter­na­tion­al­ism. sup­port for bru­tal regimes mixed with mil­i­tary med­dling has been as­cen­dant for too long. Per­haps now there’s a glimmer of hope in the UK for a bet­ter kind of global pol­i­tics.

Bri­tain’s Labour party leader Jeremy Cor­byn.

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