Decoding Global Conflicts: Politics, Populism, and the Road to Peace

Leonard Cohen crooned “There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t.” If the ability to count is essential in politics so is clearly defining the drivers of war and peace.The hard-left Stop the War Coalition – the stoppers – assert that Israel is at war with Hamas, neglecting its pogrom and Israel’s right to self-defence. However, the window of legitimacy is closing on Israel’s ferocious response that has killed thousands and devastated Gaza. Smart operations against Hamas could enable Arab efforts to normalise relations, rescue Palestinian nationalism, and sideline Iran. Netanyahu must also go to enable a pathway to reconciliation that Iranian machinations seek to scupper.Yet the stoppers have a blind or soft spot for the malign Iranian regime which is arming proxies and flexing its militarist muscles against Western allies. Iran recently fired missiles at the home in Iraqi Kurdistan of a prominent businessman, killing him and his 11 month old daughter, on the pretext that it was a Mossad centre. Absolute bunkum denied by Kurdistan and Iraq. America should supply air defences to an ally under the cosh.The baby incinerated in Erbil was called Zhina, as was the Kurd murdered in Tehran for “bad hijab.” That sparked a revolutionary upsurge, now at bay but that could in months or years resume against a fragile regime. But stoppers don’t mention regime change from below and for Woman, Life, and Freedom.They also blame Nato imperialism for Russia’s continuing war on Ukraine and scorn its agency. They forget that America’s initial reaction was to offer an escape route for President Zelensky to which he retorted that he needed ammo not a ride.Far from Ukraine being a puppet of imperialism, it has been spoon-fed arms, partly because of supply constraints, but also lest Russia makes good blood-curdling threats of escalation. Large EU and US arms supplies are currently being held back for domestic reasons. Ukrainian forces are rationed to 2,000 artillery shells a day while Russia fires five times that number.Social media is a cranky cesspit where the IRA, Russia’s Internet Research Agency troll farm, industrially spouts disinformation to divide and destabilise. Bots and tweets miniaturise war as powerfully as small weapons such as drones.The hard left also indulges populism. Ken Loach argues that 76% of people in an opinion poll backed an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East but Starmer and Sunak refuse to accept “the will of the people.” This is populism central. Would we support capital punishment if an atrocity prompts majority support for it?Besides, MPs are not delegates. They are representatives who exercise their judgement. Nor should they make foreign policy. The Executive should decide, often taking the temperature of Parliament, which holds them to account as do the voters.Keir Starmer rightly backed this in backing military action against the Houthis menacing maritime navigation. Labour has again transcended Corbynism with only the usual suspects opposing the bipartisan line in the Commons.Prior debate would telegraph our punches. Inaction has consequences too. William Hague recalls that inability to explain precise plans for military reasons meant his government lost the vote and western policy lost credibility in Syria after it deployed chemical weapons in 2013. This, he says, caused a more confident intervention by Russia and great human suffering.This year’s mainly peaceful conflicts in about 60 national elections includes EU Parliament elections in June and ends in America in November. Our fate is intimately linked with their strategic choices.Across the Channel, an authoritative forecast indicates that elections could see “a major shift to the right” with far-reaching implications for foreign, economic, and environmental policies. One to watch.We watch events across the pond and the possibility of Trump 2 in more detail. Many are gaming its impact on Nato and Europe. EU Commissioner Thierry Bretton says Trump once told him that his administration “would never support Europe if it came under attack.” Bretton proposes a multi-billion EU defence plan to supply Ukraine and defend Europe lest Trump’s America withdraws. A UK security pact with Europe is a progressive priority.The potential for Trump to further erode a common American identity leads Richard Haass, a sober foreign policy titan, to write that he “cannot rule out continued paralysis and dysfunction at best and widespread political violence or even dissolution at worst” in America. Neither is inevitable.Whoever triumphs, vital security links with America require diplomatic finesse. David Lammy rightly dismisses a “cancel culture” in our foreign policy. It astonishes many here that Trump could win but we must grasp the anger of American workers whose living standards slumped for decades while output soared. They saw improved earnings under Trump, whether to his credit or not.Many Americans see liberalism as distant from their lives. Labour should reinvent itself as more materially rooted in communities, solid on security, and invest in our own version of the other IRA –Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act to boost decarbornisation and jobs.All that is made more urgent by the rapid, unstable, unreliable, and chaotic reinvention of global politics as the post-war order gives way to what many fear are pre-war scenarios. An irony is that rising nationalism and populism co-exist with continuing economic globalisation, which means that human-made and natural shocks of all sorts can hit home more quickly.A Labour Government could make a positive difference with allies, vision, realism, and methodical calculation. Progressives need to clearly understand what drives war and peace to protect our programme and peace. We have maybe 14 or 40 weeks before we could face these changes and challenges with a new Labour Government. “Hallelujah” to that, as Leonard Cohen might add, but possible grim futures mean we must keep our wits about us.


To read more from Gary Kent, see Hypocrisy, hate and bad history: Leaving the anti-western Left in the past.