The Dreadful Continuity of British Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Starmer is the heir to Blair in more ways than one.

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Robert Wright doesn’t think much of the foreign policy direction of the new Labour government in Britain:

[Labour shadow foreign secretary] Lammy depicts his foreign policy vision as new, but it’s pretty much the same vision that has long guided his party and comparable western parties, including the Democratic Party in America. And this vision is, in critical respects, not very different from the neoconservatism that has dominated Republican foreign policy for most of the past few decades. Lammy’s progressive realism is one of the several variants of Blobthink that have together played such a big role in creating the mess we’re in.

Wright is responding to Lammy’s article in Foreign Affairs from earlier this year, and his assessment lines up with what I wrote about it then. In my post, I focused on Lammy’s rote recitation of the conventional talking points about the “red line” episode in Syria and its supposed implications for U.S. credibility, but I also noted that it seemed as if Lammy had learned nothing from his party’s last stint in power. As I said, “I suspect Lammy is just trying to put the bad ideas of New Labour under a new label.” International relations scholar Van Jackson raised similar concerns that Lammy’s vision “shows worrying signs of rehashing Blair-style neoconservatism, which was of course disastrous.”

The Labour victory on Thursday will give Starmer a huge parliamentary majority with more than 400 seats. Despite winning just 34% of the vote, his party will have almost two-thirds of the seats in the House of Commons. They owe that result in large part to the collapse of the Tories and the ensuing split on the British right. A government with such a large majority will be able to do more or less whatever it wants for the next few years, but it will have the same relatively narrow base of popular support that Labour has had for many years. The sheer incompetence and self-destructive tendencies of the Conservatives under multiple leaders made this government possible.

Prime Minister Starmer is the heir to Blair in more ways than one, and when it comes to foreign policy he has given us every reason to expect him to be almost as bad as his predecessor. His support for the war in Gaza is one important example of that, and that position has already cost Labour a few seats to independent candidates that ran in opposition to the war and the party. Judging from Labour’s election manifesto and Starmer’s record, we can expect mostly continuity in Britain’s foreign policy. That will be reassuring to many in Washington that count on having a subservient Britain as a reliable supporter of the U.S. position, but it will be bad news for Britain and for whichever countries next end up in the crosshairs of our two governments. Starmer has also backed the ongoing war against the Houthis in Yemen, for example, so U.K. involvement in that useless conflict will continue.

This brings us back to Jackson’s critique:

Lammy swears progressive realism will not repeat “the failures of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya,” but makes no attempt to convince us why it will not. He offers nothing to suggest peace-like ambitions, and nothing that would create distance from a militarist mindset. 

One of the biggest flaws of New Labour has been its leaders’ quick resort to using and backing the use of force in other lands. It is easy for Labour leaders today to say that they won’t repeat the terrible mistakes of their predecessors (no one is going to campaign openly on launching new disastrous wars), but if they don’t acknowledge who is responsible for the earlier failures and if they don’t understand why those interventions failed or backfired it is unlikely that they will avoid making similar blunders. Jackson notes Lammy’s weird reference to the “red line” episode and adds that it “hints at the worrying possibility that his progressive realism lacks the wherewithal to resist the “imperial temptation” that always exists within liberalism.”

Read the rest of the article at Eunomia

Daniel Larison is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.