April 22, 2002

Introducing Ameroscepticism

What I'd really like to do is to tell you some good news for a change, that something has changed, and changed for the better, but I'm afraid that, by the lights of this column, there's not much of that on the go. 'Airstrip One,' inasmuch as it has a theme, is all about whether Britain will ever rediscover foreign policy goals of her own again. It doesn't make the case – palpably absurd – that Britain has no foreign policy, merely that it has the wrong one. Clearly the way to change that is politically (though, to be effective, what it really needs is a complete seizure of the history faculties at Oxford and Cambridge, and then we might have a competent mandarinate in forty or so years time) but on that score things have got worse. With the replacement of the Atlanticist William Hague as Tory leader by Iain Duncan Smith, a truly remarkable thing has happened: the right in Britain, the only faction that might oppose Mr. Blair's cleverness on grounds of the national interest, has become if anything, even more pro-American. And although readers of know that it is quite possible to be sceptical of U.S. foreign policy goals without being anti-American, it's rather more than the current Tory leadership is capable of.

However, let's turn our minds back to when that excellent fellow Mr. Hague was Tory leader, to early 2001 in fact. It was embarrassing, wasn't it? The way the Tories couldn't wait to roll on their backs and wiggle their tummies at George Bush. 'The impression is gaining ground in Washington,' intoned William Hague, statesman, during some baiting of Labour over British support for Star Wars, 'that America's oldest and staunchest ally is strangely reluctant to co-operate in measures that most Americans believe to be vital to their safety.' Worse still, 'some British opponents [of National Missile Defence] seem to want to resist the upgrade at Fylingdales. They think that they can deflect America from its chosen course. Such a view is foolish and naive.' Heel boy! If nothing else, the ex-Leader was well acquainted with the realities of international diplomacy. Namely: it's reprehensible that anyone shouldn't 'co-operate' with American foreign policy objectives; the test of the British national interest is the speed with which we can satisfy America's vital needs; and that, well it's unspoken, but it's there – America: good; Europe: bad. Given that the right in Britain still secretly hopes, for all its recent talk of hospitals and schools, to effect electoral alchemy by appeals to British sovereignty and national independence and other such fancies, I would like to introduce you to the dog that most definitely will not bark during any general election campaign. Its name, Ameroscepticism.

But before I go any further, just a word about Amerosceptics. You might not know many, however once you've heard a little bit about them I'm sure that they'll seem fairly familiar. The first thing to know about an Amerosceptic is that he's not anti-American. No, no, no, in fact, he loves the place, the people, its culture. Indeed some of his very best friends are American; it's just that he loves Britain even more, and despite all the things that Britain and America have in common, he doesn't want the former to become subordinate to the latter.

Now this makes our friend the Amerosceptic seem rather cuddly, but it has to be admitted that he's not without passion. Unfortunately he does tend to get a little bit annoyed by what he sees as Britain's fifth column, the Amerophiles. We'll come to what they think in a moment, but for now we'll note the Amerosceptic charge sheet against them. For they're the sort of people who: deny the facts; don't put Britain's interests first; have a hidden agenda, if they're not actually being downright dishonest; and, rely on evasion and assertion rather than argument whenever they're flushed into the open. Oh, and they also control all, or most, elite media institutions, dominate the political establishment, receive copious funding from abroad, have sinister cold war origins, are contemptuous of public opinion and prefer each other's company to that of the ordinary, decent Briton. The Amerosceptic also notes, without comment, that it can hardly be denied that among their number, Amerophiles do include a large number of people who can only be called foreign.

So you see, if when you meet him, the Amerosceptic seems a bit choleric, it's not really his fault. He has issues. And anyway, that incredibly slanted press he gets can't help. However, that's merely by way of context. What, you want to know, is Ameroscepticism, and why, the big-media conspiracy apart, haven't I heard about it until now? Well, it boils down to three things. First there is the quite unbelievable stupidity of Amerosceptics. Second, the subtlety and distinction of the forces ranged against them. And finally, there's the small matter of their having no popular support. The last point we can dismiss, it both being the consequence of the first two, and never a bar to prominence for other causes. So why is Ameroscepticism unpopular, and does it deserve to be?

Its unpopularity is easily accounted for: all the people who ought be Amerosceptics are ranting Amerophiles. Not much talent left I'm afraid on the Amerosceptic bench; but why, you demand, why are natural Amerosceptics Amerophiliac? and what is Ameroscepticism, you still haven't told us? Alright, alright, I'll go one better than telling you, I'll – if you're British – demonstrate Ameroscepticism: you, with Pavlovian certainty, will display it in about two minutes time.

Rupert Murdoch (no, wait, that's not it) owns many publications with as many points of view as there are angels in Heaven, or nipples in The Sun. One of Mr. Murdoch's magazines is the neo-conservative American publication, The Weekly Standard. In it one of our own, the British journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft, took, a few months afterwards, Fleet St. to task for its coverage of the US presidential election. This was an article of some scope, and inter alia he touched on why we behaved as we did last November and December. Apparently it was guilt, we're guilty because we know we've gotten our defence as a 'free lunch' for the last fifty years. Now, provided you're not one of these chaps who doesn't think Britain can stand on her own two feet, thousand years of parliamentary democracy etc., here comes the shocker. Apropos nothing much Mr. Wheatcroft informed the readers of the Weekly Standard that they had nothing to worry about as far as those sneering British press reports are concerned since, 'the United States was the world's first great exercise in popular government'. Feel anything? strong urge to expostulate, gearing up to write a letter to the Telegraph? If this leaves you cold, and you happen to be what's commonly known as a 'Eurosceptic' you're a very puzzling beast. This is where the Amerosceptic not merely parts company from you, but wonders quite why you talk so much about sovereignty and self-government and what have you. Indeed he has a long, a very long list of questions for you.

Starting with defence. Do you really believe that Britain has gotten a 'free lunch' for fifty years, or do you think that America has armed forces in Europe not because of unalloyed altruism, but because it's in her interests to have them there? To go further, and if you're a conservative you'll fly through these, if it stops being in America's interest to have troops here, but stays in ours, will they stay or will they go? Though that begs the question, how are they currently in our interest? Are the Danes likely to invade? Is East Anglia in peril? And one more thing while we're at it, if we asked them to go, would they? Or to put that another way, do you think there's any prospect that Britain one day might attain the national self-respect of, say, the Philippines?

Is American foreign policy a good thing? You will of course admit (or rather in your case, you'll trumpet it, 'standing together, unbreakable bond, united against something or other') that this is a reasonable question, given that British divergence from American foreign policy is a coming of Haley's comet level wonder. As to the good thinginess of American foreign policy, which brand appeals most, and why is it in our interest to cleave so closely to it? Madeleine Albright's progressive imperialism ('the tallest nation') or, the tendency best captured by her neo-con counterpart Elliot Abrahams when he reminded us that America has 'been the greatest force for good among the nations of the earth'? Take your pick.

What is the reasoning behind the US position on, say, European defence? On the one hand, we apparently don't pull our weight, 'free lunch', all that sort of thing. But on the other hand, we shouldn't do anything that endangers the Atlantic alliance, that puts American leadership in doubt. For if we do, and here I freely acknowledge I become seriously confused, if we club together to do what we always should have been doing in the past, then America might well not provide us with the defence we've just provided ourselves against the threat that doesn't exist.

Has contracting out British foreign policy to the State Department delivered the goods? If you hold that it has, you possess a truly impressive range of fears for what could have gone wrong with post-war Britain. To take merely one example, and this may possibly have resonance for some of you, has the American view on what we should do vis-ΰ-vis 'European integration' been a good thing, or a bad thing? From the drift of these questions you might suspect they've been aimed at Eurosceptics/should-be-Amerosceptics-too. Not a bit of it, they apply just as much to out and out Europhiles. Listen to Chris Patten or Leon Brittan the next time they advocate 'deepening' our European relationship. Watch out for the same stock phrases, 'if we want to be taken seriously by the Americans . . . if we want to have influence in Washington . . . it's what our friends on Capitol Hill are urging us to do.' Why should this be the test for what's in Britain's national interest?

I would ask, rhetorically, 'what would America do if she found herself in Britain's position?' but then we know the answer to that one. She'd resile at the prospect of tutelage, let alone involvement in the hegemon's wars at every opportunity. Indeed she'd do all those things the history clichιs tell us we used to – remember, Britain's time-honoured role, identifying the most powerful nation and joining the other side? Not a lesson from the Book of Tory Wisdom, Ancient & Modern, you're likely to hear a Thatcherite apply anytime soon.

On a purely functional level, is American foreign policy a very safe thing to be tied to? Do we really want to bring democracy and Blockbuster Video to the heathen Chinese? Well that's where the momentary good news comes in, for whatever we might want to do, whatever crusades for justice in the Balkans, or keeping-Saddam-in-his-box we might pant for, we've got a President who's not so keen. Which puts a supplicant in a very odd place. Dubya is, thank God, a realist. That is to say he won't talk (and mean it) about the 'most exceptional nation' or any of that rubbish. The tragedy for America is that if her chickens hadn't come to roost so monstrously last September, who can doubt but that Dubya's foreign policy would have been marked by quietism unprecedented in the post-war period?

No, bar this unsustainable 'war against terrorism', every sinew the President and the Secretary of State have is, very wisely, devoted, I believe, to America doing less in the world.

Forget any garbage you might have heard about a burgeoning British 'peace' movement. The sad truth for wanabee British Buchananites is that here, governments are loved for their wars. It's our tradition. To conflate why we should be opposed to America's wars with why Americans should be opposed to them is of course part of the cultural cringe that underlies everything discussed above. Our tragedy is that the people who should free us from clientalism, our wondrous Thatcherites, the Eurosceptics, the Britain-firsters, are our jailers. The irony being, the door's open, we're free to go. And no one would benefit more than America: like slavery, the Anglo-American relationship corrupts master and chattel alike.

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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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