April 8, 2002

Your Friends In the West

I sometimes think the luckiest thing about America is that she doesn't have within her borders 'pro-Americans'. That is to say, she doesn't, to any degree of public visibility have that troupe of people, who, for whatever amongst a wide range of reasons, take it upon themselves to be America's 'buddies' overseas. To take an example to hand, here, as far as I can present them to you, are the opinions of one of the academics who taught me at university, presented in the form of his recent book, Unfinest Hour. This examines the vexed subject of Britain's involvement in the Balkans in the early 90s, and the decisions taken, erratically in our national interest, by the then Conservative government headed by John Major and foreign secretary Douglas Hurd. It perhaps goes without saying that in his own conception, the author, Dr.Brendan Simms, is both a realist and a conservative.

Every assumption in Dr.Simms's book about Britain's role in Bosnia is wrong. And the assertions aren't much better, but at least they have the decency to be out in the open. What wrecks Unfinest Hour, what stops it from being the hymn to American virtue the author intends, is that from start to end he tells himself that he is a conservative, a realist and a student of history. Yet the story he tells us is that of the liberal Dream of Bosnia. And few other leftovers from the 1990s manage to combine quite so much historical unreality and mondialist mystagogy.

The narrative, for Dr.Simms, is a simple one. Bosnia fell prey to a unpleasant neighbour in Serbia; Britain wasn't hugely keen on getting involved, and, to that end, didn't want others sucking her in; America saw the moral truth about the conflict, wanted to get involved, was forestalled by Britain, but, eventually, came to the rescue of Bosnia. The principal technique is omission. Hence nowhere do we read of what the United States was up to, in this timeframe, in any extra-Balkan context, which – and to give Dr.Simms his due, it's not easy even then – helps if you are determined to cast Bill Clinton's foreign policy as being moral. Nor is there even a cursory history of how Bosnia came into being – this matters because, if the war is to be presented in suitably outraged terms, the status of the participants is crucial to the Simmian argument.

Little evidently annoyed the Newton Sheehy Lecturer in International Relations more than having read through all the coverage of the Bosnian war and coming across lines like, 'they're all at it, always have been', or, worse still, 'it's civil war, madness to get embroiled'. Every prejudice the professional academic possesses is thereby given target. Centuries of peace are adduced, and, more pertinently, the awful shade of Slobodan Milosevic, demon king and NatWest customer, is recognised and brought vigorously to our attention. However, to get all fussed about whether it was a civil war or an 'illegal war of secession' can never ultimately be anything more than an exercise in, 'well here's the moment I pick my team'.

If the war is seen as one of Serbian aggression, or for that matter, as Simms also puts it, an 'illegal secession', we need to know what we're supposed to be feeling an affinity with. Brendan Simms never tells us. He never says why the Bosnia that seceded, slowly and softly, from Yugoslavia was such a good cause. Given that he exalts the war against Serbia over Kosovo, it's hard to see why those terroristic splitists were white men, whereas the vile Bosnian Serb had to be kept in 'multi-ethnic' Bosnia, by us, for his own good. Still, the point is, what was so moral about defending Bosnia, other than that instrumental in this was an opportunity for Serb slapping?

Though to suggest that concern for Bosnia per se is the meat of the book would be deeply misleading; what really is at stake here is . . . anti-Americanism. This is everywhere. The war gave 'many' Tory MPs the first chance to vent it in forty years. As for the army, ours that is, its 'officer corps are still riddled with' the cancer. This doesn’t actually lead Simms to suggest that we should, for our own good, be subject to armed American intervention in order to save us from these uniformed fanatics, but it's a close run thing. When he details how the Foreign Office worked effectively the American political machine in pursuit of British objectives, Dr.Simms affects horror. Of course, when a British diplomat dissents from the policy of his employers and sides with the US, that’s exemplary, Nutting-over-Suez form.

Half the problem with America's dupes overseas is that they believe the lies Americans tell about themselves, even when, as is the case with a good many conservatives, most Americans don't credit them for a second. It's faintly shocking to see every statement by British politicians paraded as being just so. Never is allowance made for the possibility that policy X (with recognisable outcome Y) was being pursued for anything other than publicly stated reason Z. Take this approach to international relations and frankly, you could paint, oh, the Danes as being villains, let alone Douglas Hurd.

I'm baffled as to the precise point of the peculiar and repetitious discussion of the ethnic ancestry of some of the British participants. There are only so many times in one book that we we need to be told that Major Mike Stanley’s 'real' name is Milos Stankovic. If we hear this of the interpreter, what of the author? Is it relevant that an anti-British, pro-German book which attacks the army for its supposed anti-catholicism has been written by a southern Irish, Roman Catholic of part German extraction? I imagine not.

Unfinest Hour culminates in America's great achievement, Dayton, when the Sarajevo government got less than anything the wicked David Owen had offered them. But then we know we can't trust someone guilty of 'obsessive feuding with Washington'. Dayton's great merit, patently, lay in the fact that although the good guys got less, they got it after the Bosnian Serbs had gotten a good kicking.

'One of the more bizarre results of the Anglo-American military tension [our fault – not theirs, for bugging us, or covertly shipping arms] was [General] Rose's cordial relations with the Russians.' Why, you might ask, was that ipso facto bizarre? This neatly laid out prejudice, like all the others, serves to show that America’s foreign friends wish her a whole heap a feudin'. With friends like Brendan, America gets rather more enemies than she presently needs.

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Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis. He has also recently taken 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.

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