Hard-left radical Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour Party leadership elections has British centrist and center-left observers—who failed to foresee his victory until the 11th hour—in a tizzy. As Richard Aldous noted here in August, “Corbyn was supposed to be a joke candidate–the proto-Marxist sacrificial victim put up by the hard left at every Labour leadership election… Those parliamentary “morons” failed to understand that the Labour Party in the country has shifted dramatically to the left.” It had indeed: Corbyn won in a landslide. And now his views on everything from renationalizing major industries to apparently refusing to sing the national anthem will be up for five years of scrutiny before the next elections.
But to American observers, perhaps nothing is more concerning than Corbyn’s foreign policy. Writing in Commentary, Jonathan Tobin notes some of his past positions:
He has stated that he considers the United States to be the moral equivalent of ISIS. He is a fervent opponent of Israel and openly sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah. He has supported those who promote 9/11 truther myths and praised vicious anti-Semites. He called Osama bin Laden’s death “a tragedy” and campaigned for the release of terrorists convicted of attacking Jewish targets. And he has praised Russian and Iranian propaganda channels and even hosted a show on Iran’s Press TV.
Tobin points out that given his views, Corbyn’s victory mainstreams a fringe-but-fashionable left-wing anti-Semitism that Europe has been seeing more and more of recently.
Corbyn also brings anti-Americanism back to the British center in ways that it hasn’t been in 30 years—or perhaps since the Second World War. His general verbal sympathy for America’s enemies is one thing (haven’t we heard the same from European leaders lefties from Vietnam through Iraq?). But Corbyn—who divorced his second wife over a disagreement on how to educate their son—appears to mean it. He would, he has declared in the past, like to leave NATO and to scrap Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
The last time the head of a major British party held positions like these, Michael Foot, who embraced unilateral nuclear disarmament, led the Labour Party to disaster against Margaret Thatcher in the 1983 elections. But Foot, a man of great personal honor who had opposed Hitler well before the British mainstream in the 1930s and stood against Soviet aggression in Hungary, had come to support NATO as early as the 1950s. Not since before World War II has a Labour—or Conservative—leader questioned the basic Atlanticist compact.
While it’s overwhelmingly likely Corbyn will prove as unelectable as Foot, nothing is certain. As Corbyn’s nomination itself shows, one of the most important maxims of politics is Lord Melbourne’s complaint that, “What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.”
It’s not just foreign observers but prominent Labour MPs who find his foreign policy beyond the pale. Sky News has run a fascinating, darkly humorous account of Corbyn’s attempt to fill the Shadow Defense Secretary post. Usually this is not exactly a hard ask. But under the circumstances, one prominent candidate refused after insisting on “a 30-minute conversation about what would happen if we had to invade Russia” (presumably in response to aggression in the Baltics or elsewhere). Eventually Corbyn’s representative was reduced to pleading to another MP, “Now, this might be a bit of an outside idea, how do you feel about being shadow defence secretary?”
Corbyn and his allies have spent the past few weeks rowing back some of his more radical positions, including on NATO. But on others, such as Trident, he seems to be digging in his heels, and some matters—such as his euroskepticism—seem to presage epic battles within his own party. Corbyn has never run any part of the government, having been until yesterday a career backbencher and, basically, a crank. So it’s worth wondering how, or whether, he’ll keep his party together as he faces several “built-in” foreign policy crises, prominent among them next year’s EU referendum, before the 2020 elections. One thing seems sure: this weekend’s vote was just the beginning, not the end, of his party’s troubles.