Britain’s Corbyn is no laughing matter

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“Few people outside Britain have ever heard of Jeremy Corbyn,” the British journalist Nick Cohen wrote in July, dubbing the member of Parliament (MP) the “long-shot” candidate to lead the Labour Party. Half a year later, Corbyn is Labour chairman, and still, few outside his home country know his name. They should.

{mosads}Corbyn is arguably the most left-wing member of the British Parliament, and Labour’s most radical since its founding in 1900 — a time when women couldn’t vote and children worked in mines. That worldview has meaningful implications: As Britain and Europe confront Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) barbarism, the Syrian civil war, Iran’s nuclear campaign and Russian adventurism, he’s had a legitimizing effect on policy ideas long relegated to the fringe.

Over three decades in Parliament, Corbyn has made his foreign policy views plain: “anti-imperialist,” anti-American, anti-EU, anti-NATO, and — most of all — anti-war in virtually all circumstances. From 2001 to 2011, Corbyn served on the steering committee of the Stop the War Coalition — a group founded 10 days after the 9/11 attacks to oppose any intervention in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the War on Terror, and which explicitly recognized the legitimacy of Iraqis to fight Coalition forces “by whatever means they find necessary.”

From 2011 until just before his party election victory in September, Corbyn served as Stop the War’s chair. Among its other achievements, in 2013, the organization played a key role in swaying Labour’s then-opposition leader Ed Miliband to torpedo plans to intervene in Syria following revelations of the government’s large-scale use of chemical weapons.

Worse, during Corbyn’s chairmanship, Stop the War showed an alarming partiality for the Syrian regime. Its vice president hailed the Assad family’s “long history of resisting imperialism,” and dismissed the uprising against it as an “imperialist plan” in service of “Americans and Zionists.” The organization has given platforms to a leading London-based Assad supporter and even a Syrian nun who serves as an apologist for a regime whose forces are believed responsible for the vast majority of the war’s quarter-million dead.

What is more, Corbyn himself has long shown a soft spot for the regime’s chief backers, Russia and Iran. In 2014, he described Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “not unprovoked,” and that the “root of the crisis” there lies in the supposedly inexorable push by NATO, led by the U.S., “to expand eastwards.” He has appeared on the Kremlin-funded network RT dozens of times, and in 2010 hosted an hour-long program on Iran’s state-run Press TV (Britain later banned the network). Last year, at an event marking the 35th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, he gave a speech entitled “The Case for Iran,” calling for the immediate end to sanctions and to the Islamic Republic’s “demonization.”

And yet Corbyn has been as unwilling to criticize the Syrian regime and its backers as he has their nemesis, ISIS.

When the group massacred 30 British sunbathers on a Tunisian beach in July, Corbyn blamed the North African country’s “austerity” policies. Appearing on RT a month later, he compared ISIS atrocities with those of the U.S. military in Iraq. Hours before this month’s Paris massacre, he condemned the joint U.S.-U.K. strike that killed the British ISIS executioner “Jihadi John.” And even after Paris, he has persisted in dismissing the group’s actions as little more than unfortunate responses to Western misdeeds: While conceding that “immediate fault” for the killings lies with the gunmen, he said that “we need to think about” how the West contributed to the group’s birth and sustenance. When France responded by striking the ISIS capital in Raqqa, Syria, Corbyn was unsurprisingly opposed.

Writing in The Guardian in August, James Bloodworth — editor of the blog Left Foot Forward — compiled a list of Corbyn’s problematic personal and political connections. These include the Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” he boasted of having the “pleasure and honor” of inviting to an event in Parliament (he extended a similar honor to Ireland’s Sinn Fein); a known Holocaust denier who has hailed the death of American and British troops as a “victory”; and a second Holocaust denier whose pro-Palestinian group he admitted to bankrolling. Corbyn is also chummy with former MP George Galloway, who famously saluted former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s “courage” and “strength,” and has personally donated thousands of pounds to Hamas.

Corbyn’s party press secretary is an unapologetic Stalinist; his education spokesman a convicted arsonist. The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Cuban President Fidel Castro earn his admiration; NATO’s war to save Muslim Kosovars from Serbian aggression does not. It should be no surprise that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the government of Iran were among the first to congratulate him on his Labour win.

Admittedly, Corbyn’s radical views make him virtually unelectable as prime minister. But there is ample reason for Washington to be alarmed. As opposition leader, he enjoys real power to influence Britain’s national security, and, by extension, ours. Indeed, even after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution after the Paris attacks calling for “all necessary measures” to degrade ISIS, Corbyn was pushing Labourites to vote against expanded airstrikes on the group (he ultimately relented amid a threatened mutiny over the issue). Meanwhile, Corbyn is also trying to push his party to withdraw its support from Britain’s Trident nuclear program — a submarine-borne missile system that has been the country’s main nuclear deterrent for two decades.

Success in either effort would represent a significant step backward for Britain, for the trans-Atlantic alliance and for international security. Given the multitude of international crises facing his country and the world, Corbyn’s policy positions may sound unserious, even laughable. Their ramifications are anything but.

Kessler is deputy director for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, and a former research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society in London.

Tags Britain British Parliament Great Britain Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party opposition leader U.K. United Kingdom
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