January 29, 2001

The Jingos

Justin Raimondo has written a column attacking "Globalism on the Right." As anyone who knows The Raimondo would expect, punches are not pulled.

The particular target is an article in The Times (London) by their news editor Michael Gove. Michael Gove, in typically controversial fashion titles his article "We must fight the good fight for jingoism," but jingoism does not mean what we expect. When I use the term jingoism I tend to mean a blind support for my country’s war crimes, and a hopelessly wide idea of what are "national strategic interests" or as Mr Gove put it "bellicose adventurism."

To Michael Gove the term is different. It means focusing on the country’s strategic interests, yet rejecting the narrowly parochial strategic priorities of isolationists such as me (although I have no doubt I was not in his mind). One can take him to task for his use of the word jingoism, it is obviously designed to catch attention to his views and his adoption of the word was over enthusiastic. Any confusion and resulting vitriol coming from the use of the term is entirely Mr Gove’s fault, and a price I’m sure he’s prepared to pay for the resulting attention his views receive.

So to the merits of the case. The subtitle "the West has to remain capable of robust and decisive military action", is a statement, to me at least, of the obvious. The question is not the means, but the aim. He writes that the policy of the Blair administration is too well meaning and fuzzy for a grown up world. They are imprudently spreading shrinking military forces throughout the globe, serving little strategic interest. Strike two for Mr Gove.

He then mentions a "neo-isolationist" coalition of left and right. Intriguingly he mentions two British figures on the Left, George Galloway and Bruce Kent, but on the Right, he mentions Pat Buchanan and Jean Marie Le Pen. One thing that I know for certain about the latter two gentlemen is that neither is British. This is in itself an interesting comment on the state of neo-isolationism in Britain, but I digress. Here we start to see the real meat of the article; it is not an exercise in rehabilitating the term jingoism, but a careful exercise in triangulation. Mr Gove is trying to put distance between those dreadful radicals, and his point of view. There is some dissent and radicalism in Mr Gove’s views – otherwise why does he try so hard to erect the straw men of neo-isolationism?

To underscore the radicalism Mr Gove further tries to tone it down by bringing in respectable sponsors; men like George Bush and William Hague. That these men both backed the Kosovo adventure, which should define opposition to Clinton-Blair foreign policy, but it seems important that they are roped in. That they are more inclined to Mr Gove’s views than Tony Blair would be is not in doubt, but they have hardly travelled the whole mile.

Michael Gove does have a clear idea about the sheer scope of the ambitions of the "New World Order" (a term that I try to avoid like the plague). Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Colombia, Kurdistan and South Asia. Just listing them is mind boggling, as is the fact that these are all areas that the British or American government have pronounced on. Why? And why no debate?

From this promising start, we get to the issue of Saddam Hussein. To summarise, Mr. Gove does not like the man and believes ousting him should be a strategic policy. Sensibly, he does not mention oil (the embargo on Iraq has hardly eased the present oil shortage, although I have no idea why a low oil price is in the interests of an oil exporter like Britain). There are his (unused) weapons of mass destruction, which do not seem to have isolated India or Pakistan, but Saddam is somehow different. Perhaps it is his agents, as far afield as "Bangkok and the Balkans." Of course, that is not the case of countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Their agents are all over the place. Then there is the article that the rogue leaders are different, they are prepared to starve their people (trade embargoes aside of course). This is proof that they are not as rational as the good old Soviet Union, which never starved its own population, or at least its non-Ukrainian population. Mutually assured destruction is not an option with these rogue states, although I am dreadfully curious why we have not had a nuclear, chemical or biological punch up just yet.

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Although I do not doubt Michael Gove’s commitment to the anti-Saddam cause, I sense that the arguments are not as sharp as a debater of his calibre can usually muster. It seems that the issue of Iraq is dragged out to prove that you can dislike Third World tyrants and be a hard-nosed realist. The argument lacks a certain power.

In short, I think that Justin Raimondo has misjudged this piece. The state of debate in Britain is retarded, and while the debate in America is about whether there are strategic interests in places like the Gulf, in Britain it is whether strategic interests should count at all. One of the most frequent complaints I get is from Tories who think that cold strategic calculation is somehow unsound. That is the mountain we in Britain have to climb.

Michael Gove’s piece was wrong in many places but his basic underlying point, that the strategic interests of the country should be the sole determinant of its military or foreign policy is utterly right. The Atlanticism pretty much goes with the territory of the British Right. There are anti-Americans on the British right; Auberon Waugh, Enoch Powell and Alan Clark – but they are dead. America has a big attraction for those of us who like low taxes, private charity, church going, optimism and entrepreneurship. The problem is trying to untangle our liking for America with identifying with America is every strategic goal. Michael Gove is not the only one who looks over the Atlantic, we all do. Just look who I write for.

It is a sign of how much further developed debate on foreign policy is in America that Justin reacted so differently to me. Michael Gove is not writing in favour of some reborn British Empire, he’s writing against. It is a sign of how bad things are over here that he feels he must talk the language of Empire so much.

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