Britain will emerge from all Brexit scenarios weaker and poorer. The Conservative government, seen as the Brexit party, will be held responsible. The long train of consequences might plausibly lead to an early general election. And Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, promising a return to “social equality” through re-nationalization and old-school tax-and-spend socialism, could become prime minister. But, even if none of this happens, as leader of the opposition, Corbyn is well positioned to take power at the scheduled general election in 2022.
For the Middle East, it is the possible elevation of Corbyn as a result of Brexit, rather than Brexit itself, that is more important. Should the Conservatives survive in the short term, governments in the Middle East will be encountering
It is true that Middle East governments have shown themselves in recent years more inclined to write their own geopolitical scripts, looking eastward, rather than westward, for trading relationships and strategic alliances. The ambivalence of the Obama years toward traditional Middle East alliances, especially concerning the Gulf monarchies and dominant Sunni powers, has forged a new appetite for political, military and economic self-determination and adventurism.
But the UK is still a friend worth having. It wields considerable diplomatic and economic power, especially in those parts of the Middle East influenced by its colonial past.
So how best to understand the differences in approach that might come with a Labour-led government? The Blair/Cameron years were characterized by a doctrine of humanitarian intervention and unfaltering loyalty to the alliance with the US. As we have seen with the invasion of Iraq and interventions in Libya and Syria, this policy failed. Both Tony Blair and David Cameron, however, believed in the importance of close strategic and trading ties with their Arab allies, recognizing that the ensuing economic and security dividends outweighed concerns by non-governmental organizations, domestic politicians and pressure groups about autocracy and human rights.
Corbyn has never supported foreign intervention. But he is a supporter of possible sanctions against Saudi Arabia over the Yemen
Still, it would be wrong to label him an extremist, as the Labour
Britain’s leftist world view is
However, Corbyn, even in the eyes of some of his most ardent critics, is believed to be a man of principle and no fool. Many opinion formers implacably opposed to his policies recognize in his ascendancy a welcome reintroduction of political “clear blue water” between the two main British parties.
The reality of gaining power may well lead Corbyn to pursue a course more consistent with his predecessors. Banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia, for instance, could bring the wrath of the unions, on which his party relies for cash and support. A post-election briefing by the security services on the nature and extent of intelligence sharing with that country might also serve to dilute his current stance.
But Corbyn’s world view is one based on a neo-Marxist doctrine of class struggle. He was said to be at his happiest engaging with the revolutionary movements of Latin America. Yet, recent events in the Middle East cannot easily be shoehorned into the largely secular revolutionary narratives of the victims of Argentina’s “Dirty War,” for example.
Today, violent Islamism, rather than outrage at dispossession, land rights or social injustice, underpins the worst terrorist excesses in the Middle East and the West. Right across the Islamist spectrum runs a belief that all things in the secular sphere take second place to religious revelation. This is where the tidy social doctrines of the left can lose their way.
Accepting this involves a more nuanced approach to Middle East affairs and one that requires more consultation with those powers and agencies currently on the wrong side of Corbyn’s foreign policy ledger.
Those powers and agencies must, in their turn, be more inclined to engage with the Labour leader. The cry often goes up that Corbyn is beyond reach, an extremist hoodwinked and seduced by the clever arguments of leftists and heavily disguised Islamists. But many of his positions are shared by many UK opinion formers, old Labour stalwarts