February 12, 2003

Hardly Even Au Revoir

One blank is filled in by 'France', and the other by 'the United States'; the writer is British, Eurosceptic, from the Conservative Party's right wing, and is writing in The Daily Telegraph. The two sentences are separated by the sum total of 58 words, and Mr Andrew Roberts (author of the recently published Churchill and Stalin: Management Strategies, or somesuch title), for it is he, believes the first state to be good, and the second state to be bad – see if you can gather which country goes where:

[_______] will act unilaterally in defence of what it perceives as its national interest if need be . . . [_______] has shown itself willing to put its own self-interest first and the concept of collective security nowhere at all.

Will it astonish you to learn that the first country is the United States, and that the second one is France? Are you amazed that it is not the act that is sinful, but the intention behind it? Do you suspect that Francophobia is the last legitimate prejudice in the English-speaking world? Hopefully you'll have sighed 'No' to all those questions, but here's another one: do you really think that NATO is about to collapse, and if it is, whose fault is it? The correct answer is, as you're about to get at some greater length, 'No, I don't think NATO is about to disintegrate, much as I might wish it would, but were it in fact about to go the way of Nineveh and Tyre, it would be entirely the fault of the United States'. Not that you would know that if you spent your time listening to the 'conservative' half-wits in the US most responsible for this state of affairs, or their howling attack poodles here in Britain.

First things first, let's try and knock on the head who or what in life causes trouble. Invariably disruption, division, upheaval and tension is caused by those who are, well, disrupting, dividing, upheaving and tense. In other words, whenever there is a challenge to the status quo, whenever some great rift opens up in what has been previously, and contentedly, static, it is those who have consciously caused this dynamic who are responsible for it. It is the vice of the radical throughout the ages to intentionally cause a problem, and then blame others for resisting him in his nefarious efforts, rather than acknowledge his personal culpability. So too it goes with foreign policy. If, for instance, the rift in NATO matters so much, qua the rift, doesn't this put the onus on those causing the disruption to pause? This brings us not quite to the heart of the matter (which is, is the continued existence of NATO an intrinsically good thing?), but to the root of the controversy that obscures this debate: who is responsible for this dispute, between America and her cronies on the one side, and the French, Germans, Russians and Chinese and theirs? Who started this fight between friends?

The facts speak for themselves. The argument that Turkey is engaging in some form of self-defence is untenable: a brain-damaged toad could see that whatever 'self-defence' means in the context of NATO's charter, it does not mean 'we are about to facilitate an attack on a neighbour of ours who is not about to attack us (and would never even countenance such foolishness)'. Therefore the argument that evil, wicked, cowardly, foolish, brittle, capricious France (and Germany) have proved themselves just so by voting down Turkey's absurd claim to this status within the confines of NATO is laughable, preposterous, unreal, childish and in the fullest sense of the word, pitiful.

I ask you, were France about to attack the Ivory Coast (or still more exactly, facilitate, for some reason, a German attack on Ghana), would this count as grounds on which they could invoke the sacerdotal article 4 and demand the might and main of the rest of NATO to plunge on in on their side? The answer to this question would tend to be no. Much as it wasn't the case that NATO members starting, or otherwise embroiled in wars of their own devising had any genuine pretension to 'self-defence' in the past. 'NATO' – not even those lovely United States – didn't come to the self-defensive aid of NATO member France when she had her difficulties in Algeria (and what an opportunity missed to pre-empt Islamofascism that turns out to have been!); come to think of it, when Britain and France were attempting to sort out Egypt in 1956, the Great (NATO) Ally didn't exactly rush in to help there either. But then when NATO allies like the United States won't even help their peers when every moral 't' has been crossed and self-defendable 'i' dotted (cf. the Falklands War), you'd have to wonder if there wasn't something a bit fishy going on here, something almost one-sided. Let us consider however the object of the Franco/Kraut/Sino/Russophobe's tender pity: the Turk.

Me, I've always affected extreme Turcophilia. Her new friends I do worry about, just a touch. Somehow I suspect that had 'brave' Turkey decided, after all, not to facilitate their front of this American war, then the abuse which would have rained down upon her Islamicist government would have done Commentary proud on a day when Daniel Pipes had forgotten to take the pills. Anyway, let's look at Ankara with the dispassionate and realistic eye a consistent friend ought to employ. The case made for Turkey, in the sense that Turkey has requested something of her NATO partners to which she is more than entitled to, is that she has made a valid plea, and has been grossly done down by the French et al. This is tripe, baloney, garbage, nonsense that would insult a bin-bag if offered up in argument against it. Listen some more to the fictive Turkey idealised solely for the purposes of this specious argument. According to the front page of The Daily Telegraph (with one of Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Toby Harnden or Anton La Guardia being the guilty man) what we have here as an injured party is a 'rock-solid [NATO] ally for half a century'.

Actually what we have in Turkey is a country that has repeatedly intimidated its NATO 'ally' Greece with the threat of aggressive war (that's the bad sort, by the way) during that self-same half century. She has, throughout the entire period of NATO's existence, had the second largest army in the alliance, but refused, no matter how chilly the Cold war got, ever to contemplate sending any troops to the Central Front, to protect West Germany from the Soviet horde. Turkey, to this day, denies the reciprocal rights of military access to her territory that other NATO allies enjoy as a matter of course with each other; she has been, for most of this period, a repressive military dictatorship – and is hardly a squeaky clean democracy now; and for what it's worth (is this a big issue? should we get excited about this sort of thing?) Turkey, dear, sweet NATO member Turkey, hasn't exactly played cricket by the Kurds. Then there's the small matter of the invasion and illegal annexation of a third of Cyprus, but then none of much care who does that sort of thing to whom in the Levant. What, in short, we can say about Turkey-the-victim, is that this bird doesn't fly.

For mindless establishmentarian right wing pap in Britain (and I'm sorry if a trend is beginning to emerge here) The Daily Telegraph has an unrivalled store of bores to call upon, with one of the worst being Sir John Keegan, the paper's defence editor. His take on the whole Article 4 fuss can be gleaned from his coy allusions to the fact that as between the United States and Turkey, NATO notwithstanding, there exists a series of bilateral Treaty relationships. As Sir John puts it, these 'allow' the US to give military aid to Turkey – when what in fact they do (as patently the giving of military aid is hardly dependant upon the pre-existence of a paper treaty), and always have done, is lock Turkey into an intentionally exclusivist relationship with the US. That's why the 'club rights' of NATO haven't ever been extended by Turkey to NATO members other than the United States: Washington has consistently sought to preserve Turkey as her client, or ally if you wish to be polite, and to restrict, as far as possible, any European influence on her. It's a bit rich now to go round denouncing countries like France and Germany for seemingly lacking fellow feeling with Turkey, when their chances of building up a relationship with each other have been deliberately retarded by the United States for fifty years.

Keegan really is the acme of a certain, silly, dare I say, old-womanly school of Anglo-American pontification. Vatic pronouncements like, 'Franco-German motives in provoking this quarrel are difficult to estimate' are worthless save for that unaccounted-for assumption that it is indeed the French and Germans who have provoked the intra-NATO spat. The idea to invoke article 4 has as its public genesis Mr Wolfowitz's visit to Ankara last December, and NATO Secretary General George Robertson has spent the last week trying to bounce the other NATO members into accepting the US defence minister's put-up scheme. Even supporters of this bodge-job admit that the actual military impact of this metaphysical request would have been small to slight, so what has the manner and fact of asking for it achieved? All it has done is to damage the very thing – NATO – that the likes of Paul Wolfowitz are presently affecting to love above all else.

After a while there's not much you can do, save engage in quite dizzying eye-rolling, when distinguished British historians like John Keegan rave, 'Franco-German interference [!] in Turko-American relations and in the management of the North Atlantic alliance looks like trouble-making'. It certainly does from the perspective of the current management's executive washroom (a certain class of right wing Brit can get in there, to do jobs the natives won't). Though you would have to wonder, were you an alien from outer space, and not someone habituated to the realities of 'Western' diplomacy these last fifty years, 'um, Sir John, why can't the French and the Germans have a say in the "management" of the Atlantic alliance? aren't they members too?'

'America created NATO', the great man further assures us in the course of merely one barmy article, 'and has fostered its development and welfare devotedly over fifty years'. This isn't history, it's the sort of stuff Soviet-era professors in Poland and Hungary and Czechoslovakia used to have to serve up about the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. NATO was the invention of one man, Ernie Bevin, and his handmaiden in making the damned thing work was its first Secretary General, Lord Ismay. I hope to God someone at Sandhurst (where Keegan lectured before turning his hand to fulltime hackwork) explained this to his officer cadet charges. Why I've cited this particular piece of mystagogic lunacy is because of the contemporary attitude towards the United States it so comprehensively illustrates. The United States can do no wrong; the United States is beloved of NATO; NATO is good, for it is loved by the United States.

All of which makes the United States' actual behaviour towards NATO pretty hard to account for. If the US is so zealously committed to the cause of NATO, what on earth was she up to when she broke all those NATO-enforced (and UN-sanctioned) arms embargoes on Croatia and Bosnia in the nineties? Seriously, if pissing all over the NATO charter is A Bad Thing To Do, does this not count, just a bit? In familiar fashion, we're back where we started: when the United States does one thing, for a certain sort of Anglophone conservative, that is always the right thing to have been done at that moment in time; when any other country does fairly much exactly the same thing, well, the thing is you see, that country's not the United States, so naughty, naughty, naughty.

Sir John Keegan imagines a France which seeks to 'prevent America lending support to Turkey to defend [sic] its border with Iraq'. This is as black-is-white and white-is-black as it's going to get anywhere by anyone in any medium this millennium, so one more time until we run out of breath and our tongues turn blue: France and friends can't compel the US to do anything, and don't seek to; whereas, what Washington and its braying lapdogs in London and Canberra are postulating is precisely their collective right to be able, via NATO, to oblige unwilling countries like France to do things they don't want to do. It's nearly impossible that this is branded a 'Conservative' strain of thought: that American and British critics of France and Germany seriously contend that these sovereign states should be compelled by supra-national authority to use their military assets when they don't want to. Astonishing, bizarre, grotesque and, as has been said before, unbelievable – worst of all, just try imagining these circumstances being reversed. Can you conceive of the scenario where America, in a small minority in NATO, would take seriously for a moment the idea that US military force could be used without her agreement? Any circumstances you can conceive of? Not a one? Gosh.

When the admirable Donald Rumsfeld starts spouting atypical crap like, 'it's unfortunate that they [the French and Germans] are in stark disagreement' you know the case being buttressed is hopeless. When did bullish unilateralism, in defence of a course you sincerely believe to be right, suddenly become a bad thing? What's that? Those are rules that don't apply to those sewers the Boche? Why on earth not? And as for that cant about 'standing by Treaties' (and how vile it is that the Hun and Frog aren't), seriously, that's a criticism of others being mouthed by partisans of the present administration? Seriously, without blushing?

Ultimately I couldn't give a toss what Americans do with their own benighted foreign policy, as long as it doesn't impinge overly on the interests of my country. Unfortunately US foreign policy does seem to go out of its way to impinge. Yet even this isn't ground for anger, since the US can't realistically be appealed to by argument, save from within, and won't plausibly be stopped from without, save but by superior force. What maddens is the attitude of our own fifth column, and the lies they will willingly tell each other about the Great Ally, and what her friendship means for us.

As one example, let's stick with the Telegraph, and its Washington correspondent, Toby Harnden, and marvel at this arrant piece of self-delusion:

As the rhetoric has become sharper and more personal in recent weeks, US officials increasingly view Europe – a term in America normally taken to exclude Britain – as not just misguided but morally bankrupt and irrelevant.

Europe, 'a term in America normally taken to exclude Britain'! This just isn't true. Go look for yourselves, go to the website of any US publication you care to think of, anywhere that this proposition could in anyway be meaningfully backed up by actual-factual evidence, and see what happens. Off you go, scoot over to wherever you like: National Review, New Republic, The Nation, the Post, The New York Times, anywhere – and just do this one thing, type 'Europe' into their in-site search engines. What happens? Every reference you'll get to any political sense of the word Europe imputes this status to Britain too. It is the Big Lie of Amerophile Eurosceptics that to Americans, to their right wing American friends, we British are anything other than Europeans too. Why do they believe this fantasy? God knows.

We started with Andrew Roberts' incoherent account of the evils of unilateralism, but we could easily instead have turned to his opinion that the French and Germans were beastly because they had the temerity act 'in defiance of the settled will of America and its allies'. Over at The Times, Michael Gove's take on the same theme was that France and Germany were at fault because their actions might help convince the likes of Saddam that 'the West does not have the stomach to enforce its will'. What will? Come to that, what 'West'? Aren't the Germans and the French paid-up members of the West? Or have they somehow slipped off the radar screen of civilizational decency, and fallen into some Asiatic morass? Can the 'will of the West' be taken to mean, 'whatever America, and such friends as she can muster, wants', or is there some better threshold to be surmounted? Can 'the West' ever consist of all the good guy nations (you know, us, the white Commonwealth, apparently now the wondrous Spanish, Italians, Poles & etcetera), if they're united round something the US opposes? Is 'the West', for instance, in favour of the International Criminal Court – or does the opposition of the US negate the support of all the other usual suspects? And just how do we know when the West's will is settled?

There is no 'West', in the coat-trailing sense it has been employed here, and even if there was, if it were in any sense recognisably Western, it wouldn't be this black-listing, ballot-free closed shop of a place our wannabe neo-cons make it seem like. It would, amongst its serried membership, allow, for one, and God help me for using this awful term, some basic diversity of sentiment. That's the sort of thing that separated us, the West, from the Warsaw Pact. You didn't, in theory, have to toe the line. It was the very proof of why we were good and they were bad. You do have to wonder, were Britain for some happy reason to find herself on the opposite side of an international issue to the United States, what would the attitude of so many right wing flacks be towards their country? I suspect conventional and bourgeois patriotic notions would not bubble to the surface as quickly as they might.

I could go on and on (and in fact, will, next week), not least because in all of this we have avoided discussion of what lies at the heart of Britain's core foreign policy error. We could, for want a better term, refer to it as NATO, but in truth this is merely the coachwork of the machine: the problem is the Atlantic alliance itself. For now, just consider the dishonesty that the right wing British case for America, and her wars, is shot through with, and think on why this might be so.

Think on the childish deceit of the Telegraph's leader, and it's vomitive suggestion that, 'at least since September 11th, 2001, America has been ready to enforce the UN's will', for if their take on NATO is pukeworthy, their praise for the UN is deathly. The only definition of the 'will of the UN' that the US adheres to is when it is concomitant with its own – and rightly so. Hence why its paid propagandists, at home and abroad, deny other permanent members of the Security Council any potential right to exercise their vetoes (thus – and see the company they keep! – Jack Straw's 'we'll act under the authority of the UN, save for any vexatious use of the veto'). Hence why the US resolutely, since September 11th and some time before it, declines to enforce 'the will of the UN', when that will is disagreeable to it.

It's not done to take too much comfort from the mob, but it is heartening, well, amusing at any rate, to know that whatever else might be the case, however many clever folk on the British right might be willing servants of American imperialism, the British public aren't quite there yet. Pity the poor Times in trying to write up the front page opinion poll it had commissioned, that resulted in it [bringing] out the complicated public attitudes to Iraq. By an overwhelming margin, voters accept the British and US case against Saddam Hussein over Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, its concealment of them and its help for international terrorists [ – although actually what they were 'accepting' were the hugely loaded questions asked of them, but never mind]. Nearly half the public believes that Iraq has links with al-Qaeda.

But barely a third of voters think that Britain and America have put forward a convincing case for military action against Iraq, with nearly three fifths disagreeing. This is linked with support for giving the UN inspectors more time to establish whether Iraq is hiding weapons.

Or to put that another way, the British people accept that Saddam is a bad Man, but not why it's supposedly our job as well to get rid of him, especially when we have the Great Ally who will take care of this problem come what may.

Why NATO was always a bad thing, why Neville Chamberlain was a good thing (in foreign policy certainly), why the BBC sucks, are, it occurs, all things we can divert ourselves with at some future point. What the frenzied reaction by the American government to meek Franco-German assertions of their fundamental sovereignty, and the Conservative chorus that has supported this line here in Britain must tell us is that, we're one hell of a long way away from gaining even rhetorical independence in this country. You wait and see, the last place they'll prise American soldiers out of in Europe will be Britain.

– Christopher Montgomery

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Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis, and is publisher of ERO. He recently took some time out to run the Iain Duncan Smith campaign office, and for a while was working in the private office of the Leader of the Opposition. A young representative of the diehard tradition, he believes that Enoch Powell was right on everything apart from immigration. His column appears here on Wednesdays.

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