When UK Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election eight weeks ago, it was widely expected that her party, the Conservatives, would win the landslide victory that would give her a mandate to authoritatively preside over upcoming ‘Brexit’ negotiations.
Little did anyone expect that less than two months later, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party - previously condemned as unelectable - would have wiped out her parliamentary majority, leaving her scrambling for support to form a government.
Veteran backbencher Corbyn may have won over much of the British electorate with his socially progressive manifesto, but what of his proposed Middle East policy?
Foreign policy change for greater security
In his response to recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, Corbyn has offered a more nuanced take on how best to protect the UK’s security.
Speaking last month he suggested that “many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.”
He added that “an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people that fights rather than fuels terrorism.”
Calling on the government to admit the failure of the “war on terror”, Corbyn has backed a new approach, based on foreign policy change.
Still, his opponents called his speech ill-timed and “crass”, suggesting that there could be no apologizing for terror.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya - the recent history of British interventionism in the MENA region is a story of poorly thought-out military campaigns resulting in the near destruction of the nations they seemingly intended to help.
In this context, Corbyn’s manifesto pledges to “commit to working through the UN” and to “end support for unilateral aggressive wars of intervention” read like a breath of fresh air.
And there is no need to take his word for it, you only have to look at his voting record to confirm his long-standing commitment to non-interventionism. He voted against the war in Iraq (and made a very impassioned speech against it), against the deployment of armed forces in Afghanistan, against the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya and against UK military action in Syria.
On the ongoing conflict in Syria he has recently called for an end to US airstrikes, saying “it's nobody's interests for this war to continue. Let's get the Geneva process going quickly.” This call put Corbyn on the receiving end of a backlash from his own party, with Labour politicians accusing him of “inaction..to stopping a murderous tyrant”.
An apology for Iraq
It was the Labour party’s second-to-last PM who followed George Bush’s America into Iraq 14 years ago. Tony Blair’s name is synonymous among Iraqis with a bloody, ill-planned war that set in motion the sectarian conflict that continues to haunt their nation to this day.
Still, Blair continues to insist that “we made the right decision” on invading Iraq, despite the Chilcot inquiry last year concluding that in 2003 Saddam Hussein “posed no imminent threat.”
Corbyn, meanwhile, told the Guardian in August 2015 that if he were elected Labour leader he would push for the party to apologize for taking the UK into the Iraq war “on the basis of deception” and to the Iraqi people for the “suffering” caused.
A friend to Palestinians
Long a supporter of the Palestinian cause, Corbyn has promised to recognize the state of Palestine. Approved by a parliament vote three years ago, Prime Ministers Cameron and May seem to have conveniently forgotten to follow 70 per cent of UN member states in recognizing Palestinian nationhood.
All this would change under Jeremy, who wrote in 2015 that “last October parliament made a historic decision to recognize the state of Palestine. As Labour Leader I would not only reaffirm that decision, I would seek to build on it by lobbying support for Palestinian statehood in the international community.”
He added that “I share the growing concern over the failure to stop Israel’s violation of international human rights law.”
Still, the Labour leader has come under considerable scrutiny for his pro-Palestinian activity, including previously describing Hamas as “friends”, visiting the grave of one of the individuals behind the 1992 Munich massacre and going on sketchily funded trips to Gaza.
A critic of arms sales
More than 10,000 Yemenis have died in a two-year conflict that has seen a Saudi-led coalition backing the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi against Houthi rebels. Despite countless reports of the targeting of civilians during the conflict, and in disregard of two parliamentary reports, Theresa May’s government has refused to halt the 3.3 billion pounds made in weapons deals with Saudi Arabia since March 2015.
Corbyn’s Labour, instead, has pledged to demand “comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, including air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition” and to “suspend any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded”.
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