by Ann Garrison
I did a Google search for “Jeremy Corbyn” and “Rwanda” on the unlikely chance that Britain’s Labor Party leader had ever said anything about that tiny, tortured East African nation. The one and only result was unsurprising because, in the West, Rwanda is largely forgotten except as an excuse to go to war – to “stop the next Rwanda” – meaning the country’s 1994 bloodbath.
That bloodbath was in fact a result of stealth intervention by the U.S. and U.K. to put military dictator Paul Kagame in power, then help him invade the immensely resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo. But who cares? The claim that the U.S. and its allies go to war to “stop the next Rwanda” is an institutionalized lie.
I couldn’t find any record that Corbyn had ever said anything about Rwanda specifically but, in 2015, while campaigning for the Labor Party’s leadership, he proposed that Britain stop engaging in wars of aggression that violate international law as codified in the U.N. Charter, aka “interventions,” to save people of the global South from their own leaders, like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi. Corbyn even dared to suggest that Britain couldn’t afford costly military “interventions” that deprive its own people.
John McTernan, former director of political operations for Tony Blair, responded furiously in The Telegraph with “The Corbyn doctrine on war is a betrayal of what makes Britain great.” He invoked not only Rwanda, but also Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone:
“The Corbyn Doctrine. We saw that position set out in full during the last of the Labor leadership debates. First, Jeremy Corbyn said that he couldn’t think of any circumstances in which he would deploy military forces. Shameful enough when you think he should really have recalled genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia and atrocities in Sierra Leone. Then he went much further, saying: ‘We have to think about the level of armed expenditure we have in this country – £35bn a year. We are in the top five of military spending across the whole world … Can we afford to have global reach as a country of 65 million people on the northwest coast of Europe?’ In other words, should we even aspire to be Belgium?”
The rest of McTernan’s complaint is classic white supremacy akin to Hillary Clinton’s mortifying assertion that “America is great because it’s good.” Britain has already given so much to the world – by spreading the English language and the rule of law – that it can’t turn away now. Blah blah blah, but so much for Tony Blair’s former director of political operations. He and his boss belong in the dustbin of history, and this is about Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to lay the white man’s burden down.
A man of reason
For last Saturday’s Pacifica/KPFA Evening News, I produced “Jeremy Corbyn Departs from Bernie Sanders with Antiwar Foreign Policy.” It just happened to be an all gals newscast, and by the time it was over, my fellow female reporters were all giggling that I have a crush on Jeremy Corbyn. I remind myself not to romanticize or eroticize politicians, but it’s true that I can’t help being enthralled by this short, far from comprehensive, list of Corbyn’s rational and humble expressions about how Britain might better relate to the rest of the world.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Corbyn has said that the world ignores unparalleled suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because it’s Africa – who cares? – and because those enriching themselves off of Congo’s resource riches don’t want the suffering to end. He even advocated for intervention and engagement – not unilaterally but through the U.N. and in accord with international law.
It’s a distant ideal that hasn’t been realized by MONUSCO, The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it’s still an ideal, as is international law. Jeremy Corbyn asks us to imagine that it’s still not entirely outside the realm of human possibility. On May 16, Congolese activist Boni Tshimbalanga uploaded a video, Vote Jeremy Corbyn help for DRC (Congo), to YouTube.
Iraq War: He has repeatedly called for the prosecution of all those guilty of war crimes in Iraq, including Tony Blair. Once again, he expresses this conviction in terms of that distant but imaginable ideal, international law.
Terrorism: After the May 24 terrorist attacks in Britain, Corbyn said that “we must be brave enough to admit that the war on terror is simply not working” and that “seeing the army on our own streets today is a stark reminder that the current approach has failed.”
“Many experts,” he said, “including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.”
To Bay View readers, that may seem like stating that bears shit in the woods and the Pope’s Catholic, but Jeremy Corbyn’s a statesman – a real one – so he talks like that, just as he talks so carefully and methodically about international law. The complete transcript of his speech is published on The New Statesman.
“I think that everyone should be put on trial. I also profoundly disagree with the death penalty under any circumstances for anybody. …
“But the president [Obama] has to explain why he’s not confirming evidence of the death. Why the burial at sea – if there was indeed a burial at sea – and if it was Bin Laden, because Bin Laden may well have been dead for a year or two, for all we know.”
In the same discussion, Corbyn said that Obama had “very rapidly morphed into a Pentagon president, just like all the others.”
Syria: After the alleged April 4 sarin gas attacks in Syria, which Western press and politicians blamed on the Syrian Army, Corbyn called for the suspension of British air strikes until U.N. experts could investigate the evidence at the site of the attack and said that all parties should then return to Geneva to negotiate.
Can Jeremy Corbyn lead the revival of a British – or even international – antiwar movement?
If anyone can at this moment, it’s probably Jeremy Corbyn because he now commands the world stage and, like John Lennon, asks us to imagine peace. Is that corny or quaint? I’ve been writing a lot of snarky prose of late and, inside my cynical shell, I’m almost embarrassed to write such words down.
But of course it’s not. Not to the Yemeni families dying of cholera, U.S.-made cruise missiles, British made cluster bombs or other Western weapons of mass destruction. Or to Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, Palestinians, Somalis, North Koreans, Rwandans, Burundians or Congolese. Not to those sleeping in streets of the industrialized world while war budgets grow and grow.
Jeremy Corbyn is not only an eloquent opponent of war, but also a vegetarian, bicycle–riding – not car owning – ascetic. The man who has so effectively campaigned against government austerity leads a life that many would call austere. Even his expense submissions are reported to be the lowest of any British MP. His simple dignity starkly contrasts with the gawdy lifestyles of the 1 percent, most crassly exemplified by Donald Trump, who seem bitter that anyone but themselves should expect health care or that even the children of Flint should be able to drink free water that’s not poisoned with lead.
Corbyn’s 2015 run for the Labor Party’s leadership took everyone by surprise. As many sources report, he entered the fray at the urging of young people and trade unionists, hoping only to broaden the debate. Three months later, he himself was as stunned as anyone when The Guardian reported:
“Corbyn did more than contribute to the debate. He won it in staggering style. Yesterday the man brought in to make up the numbers was named as Labor’s 19th full-time leader having won almost 60 percent of the vote. Just over 21 years after it had installed Tony Blair to take on the Tories from the center ground, paving the way for three successive general election wins, Labor had vacated that territory and elected arguably its most left-wing leader ever and handed him an extraordinary mandate.
“When Blair took the reins in 1994, an edition of Andrew Roth’s Parliamentary Profiles that year described Corbyn as a ‘hyper-active, quasi-Trotskyist hard-leftist.’ New Labor [Blair’s equivalent of Bill Clinton’s Democrats] would cast him even further to the margins. But over the past three extraordinary months, Corbyn has risen from the political wilderness to confound everyone – including himself.
“He won the leadership with a bigger landslide than Blair achieved 21 years ago, swept to office by a tide of Corbynmania that has dumbfounded everyone at Westminster. On Friday, the election of Sadiq Khan, as Labor’s candidate for Mayor of London, was seen by MPs as the final confirmation that the left was on an unstoppable roll that would land the bedraggled figure of the MP for Islington North in the leader’s office next day. One doomladen frontbencher from the Blairite wing of the party said on Friday night: ‘I can feel that my party is just about to throw itself off a cliff.’”
A month before the election, Tony Blair himself had said, “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader [of the Labor Party], it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”
Blair was wrong. Last week Labor surged back to win 40 percent of the vote and gain 30 seats, and the Conservatives lost their majority. A humiliating outcome for Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, who had imagined that she could demolish Labor ahead of the Brexit negotiations by calling a snap election.
So if this much of the rational can become real, why not peace, or at least a revived antiwar movement? Jeremy Corbyn wants to lay the white man’s burden down, after all the grim centuries of Euro weapons and war, and that didn’t stop the movement surging behind him.
Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.