Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The British national interest

There is something rather inconsistent about a certain strain of Eurosceptic sentiment which, on the one hand abjures the Iraqi war as "illegal" and on the other hand rejects the European Union for its claimed dominance over the nation state.

If, as in the mantra of that strain of Euroscepticism, the nation state is supreme, by what measure is the war illegal? By what right, for instance, does the United Nations or any other supranational body declare it so, and by what legal authority?

Such thoughts are brought to the fore when one reads Blair’s Mansion House speech on foreign policy, which he delivered last night and, whatever else one might think of the man, in his opening sentences, his sentiments were broadly sound.

Remembrance Sunday was made particularly poignant this year by the presence and sacrifice of British troops in Iraq. We can be very proud of their heroism and courage. The harsh reality is that having been liberated from Saddam, Iraq now has to be freed from terrorism.

Let me repeat that the insurgents and terrorists have been offered an amnesty if they will lay down their weapons; and agree that elections not terror should decide the future of Iraq. No-one has wanted the events of the past 10 days in Falluja. But when negotiations were refused the Iraqi government had no option but to insist that the town could not continue to be run by such people.

There will be, quite properly, talk of civilian casualties in the course of the operation by the MNF and Iraqi army. I hope there is some account taken also of the emerging story - as in Najaf and Samarra - of the actions of the insurgents: people tortured and executed, a town held to ransom, hostages taken and killed. As elsewhere, when order is taken back, there is money and help ready to give the ordinary people there a better life.
To my mind, not only is the war morally right, but – as Blair then pointed up – "[it] has dramatically surfaced differences between Europe and America and Britain's role in both alliances. The relationship is under question as never before. So now is the time to defend it.

From there, however, it is all downhill. The war, in many ways sorted the sheep from the goats, the men from the boys – or whatever analogy you care to chose. But it has also pointed up the irreconcilable differences between Rumsfeld's "old Europe" and the US – the differences between the corrupt, vitiated anciĆ©n regime and the vibrant new world which believes in democracy and is prepared to put its money where its mouth is.

Blair's problem is that he believes the gulf is bridgeable, and he thinks that the UK can continue to perform its traditional role of providing that bridge. "We have a unique role to play," he says at the conclusion to his speech.

Call it a bridge, a two lane motorway, a pivot or call it a damn high wire, which is how it often feels; our job is to keep our sights firmly on both sides of the Atlantic, use the good old British characteristics of common sense and make the argument. In doing so, we are not subverting our country either into an American poodle or a European municipality, we are advancing the British national interest in a changed world in the early 21st century. And yes, we should be optimistic and confident of an ability to do it.
Blair, on the one hand notes that there is "only one superpower in the world today" and he wants to be "its strong ally". He also notes that "the most powerful political grouping that has created the largest economic market in the world is the European Union - and we are a leading member." "It's a great position," he says. "We should celebrate it."

Nice sentiments, but impossible in practice. As we have rehearsed so many times in this Blog, the world has changed. It has moved on. The "Europe" of old is polarising. It is looking to alliances with Russia, with China, with any passing dictator, any country other than the US. Its anti-Americanism, always in the background, its emerging to become the dominant force behind European politics, to the extent that EU member states are quite willing, openly to give succour and sustenance to the enemies of the United States.

His dream, therefore, of continuing to form a bridge is an illusion. He can align himself with the US or with the EU. He can no longer do both. The tragedy is that he does not recognise this and he loses himself in wishful thinking that is neither sensible nor coherent. He calls for a greater role of leadership for the UN, heedless of the fact that this is a morally bankrupt and corrupt organisation that has long since been part of the solution, and become part of the problem. He speaks against unilateralism, but without it nothing would get done. We would still be framing our nth resolution against Saddam and he would still be in his palaces, bribing the UN Security Council to keep him in place.

In other words, it is too late to sit on the fence. Blair cannot have it both ways. It is time to decide - EU or US. And where does the British national interest lie? That really is a no-brainer.

No comments:

Post a Comment