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ONCE again, Owen Smith’s campaign team has had to intervene to save its candidate from an ill-thought-out political position — his call to involve Islamic State (Isis) in peace negotiations.
Team Smith explained that he meant an Isis that agrees to “renounce violence, cease all acts of terror and commit themselves to a peaceful settlement,” which is really likely.
The problem is not, as Smith claimed, that the death cult is not interested in negotiating “at the moment.” It is that there is no basis to justify negotiations with this murderous bunch of cut-throats who set their face against the modern world and want to impose a present-day caricature of a caliphate that ended over 800 years ago.
Jeremy Corbyn was right to declare that there is no place for this terror group at the negotiating table. What aspects of Isis rule would Smith be prepared to debate with its apologists — public beheadings, sadistic ritual murder, child rape, slave markets for captured women, mutilation as punishment?
The only responses to Isis are to defeat it comprehensively and to prevail upon Western states not to act in a way that exacerbates resentment among Muslims and encourages a tiny minority to seek vengeance through this cult of violence and pseudo-religious obscurantism.
The only forces with a track record of inflicting military defeats on Isis have been the national armies of Iraq and Syria and the independent Kurdish forces in both countries. Supplying these bodies with arms and logistical backing, including co-ordinated air support for discrete campaigns, is the way to beat Isis.
This is not the same as sending foreign air forces over Syria to bomb targets of their own choice without agreement from Damascus in an exercise that is illegal, provocative and, at the same time, militarily ineffective.
Corbyn voted against this Tory proposal, which owes more to imperial nostalgia for British military involvement in this region-wide conflict. Smith did likewise last December, as a shadow cabinet member who hadn’t yet joined his colleagues’ rolling campaign to undermine the party leader. However, Corbyn’s challenger contradicted this peace stance by declaring that he would order the use of nuclear weapons — condemning millions of people to death — because, “If you don’t, then you don’t have a nuclear deterrent.”
While Smith may believe that having nuclear weapons and threatening to use them adds up to a deterrent, it isn’t really. No British PM could unleash a nuclear holocaust without Washington’s permission and, even if that were possible, other countries doubt that nuclear-armed powers will deploy them.
The Argentinian junta didn’t let Britain’s nuclear deterrent stop it from trying to regain the Falklands/Malvinas by force any more than US nukes deterred Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait or Israel’s nuclear weaponry prevented Lebanese resistance forces from liberating much of their country from military occupation. Britain’s conventional armed forces can defend this country against invasion or associated threats without what Corbyn calls the “unconscionable” use of nuclear weapons.
Smith’s underlying problem, as ever, is to reformulate himself as a man of the left because a challenge from the right would, in present circumstances, be crushed. At the same time, he sidesteps his ill-formed “jaw-jaw not war-war” parody of a left-wing position towards Isis because he spots the prospect of trade union votes from a pro-nuclear, pro-Trident position, based on fears for jobs.
It was all very unconvincing, which explains perhaps why the vast majority of audience members identified as undecided at the start of yesterday’s debate lined up behind Corbyn supporters at the end.
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