by CHRISTOPHER MONTGOMERY

   
 

October 9, 2002

Weary Lonesome Blues

Dark as a Dungeon

Through stupidity, forgetfulness, poor geography and bad luck as much as anything, I found myself caught up in the 'great' anti-war march in London last week. Can't say the crowd was anywhere near as congenial as the pro-Palestine lot earlier in the year, nor was the totty anything up to the level of the vast pro-Countryside march of the previous week. Though on the question of size, this is one where all you fervent anti-statists are just going to have to trust the jack-booted fuzz. As far as Britain's concerned, trudging through central London at the weekend is much more popular when it's in support of killing foxes than it is when the cause is opposition to mindless, needless slaughter of people foolish enough to have brown skin. And more important than either pretext is the simple truth that neither march will have made any difference – more than anything else this was therapeutic politics par excellence. The only reason why my walk from Westminster to Bloomsbury was disrupted by the marchers (and their symbiotic chums in uniform) was that those engaged in them knew full well it was time for a futile gesture. For if there is one lesson consistent throughout democratic societies the world over it's this: if you're on the winning side, you don't need to go on a walk to prove it.

If for one second it seemed likely to the government that invading Iraq, and still more, banning hunting, was going to be seriously unpopular, well, I'm not saying they wouldn't do it, but they'd be less than relaxed. This, as you may have noticed, is not notably the case with Iraq. One has only to reflect on the mixture of toe-curling embarrassment and incessant giggling that the Prime Minister apparently felt when the Leader of the Official Opposition offered to join up with him and 'take on' the anti-war forces together, to see that the regime is not exactly troubled by the prospect of opposition. This leads us to our first premise: we, that is to say the Iraqisceptics, are not in the majority; we are not speaking for a popular cause; and we have no, or little, claim on the democratic affection of the public against the executive claims of the state.

At this point, some of you will wish to witter on about trivia such as opinion polls. Some of which, some of the time, offer up the answer 'No' to certain artfully formulated versions of the question, 'should we go to war in Iraq?' Although, for reasons which will hopefully become apparent, these opinions are deeper, more sincere and much more widespread in the United States, they are not really dreadfully representative of the British attitude to warfare. Almost certainly because it matters so little to us, there is a casual, enthusiastic spirit to military adventure in Britain. It's just a lark, and heck, let's face it, if it all goes wrong, it's not as if we're going to be much inconvenienced by the non-consequences (this is where the American situation differs – they have something to defend, namely their imperial position). Much as the rest of the world will neatly and conveniently allow [sic] the Anglo-Americans to prosecute their war in whatever way they see fit, as and when the fighting comes, and in good time for it, the British public will support this war.

That's why, and it's just as relevant to all those left-over hippy-dippy relics so fond of nostalgia-marching, those of us who have the objective of expressing some scepticism about British foreign policy should always have to the fore what it is we actually want it to do. Today there are no arguments against British participation in the war of Dubya's dad, save for those of infantile pacifism; this is why showing the 'why' is so important. If the people are supposed to communicate to their government that a war isn't the thing they want, they can only reasonably be expected to do this if there are obvious reasons why the seemingly consequence-free option of a war in the Middle East is still, despite being just so, a bad thing. For that's another damned thing: all these people going round claiming that the skies will fall in if we invade Iraq aren't really doing the grand old cause any good at all. Realism, both about the dangers we face on our present course, and about the benefits that could accrue from a change in direction, that's the thing.

Little Maggie

If one relied on the current Conservative leadership to start providing these conceptual alternatives, despair would be the only result. Take the ill-starred example of 'Galileo', the proposed pan-European alternative to the US military's (naturally) technologically inferior GPS. For obvious, understandable reasons of state-self-interest, the American government likes encouraging the dependence of the rest of the world on their monopoly. Equally obviously, anyone who put the interests of their own country before those of America would support the emergence of a competitor. As would anyone who supported basic free market principles such as, er, competition; and those who like the idea of making scientific progress should probably jump on board this particular boat too. Does the British right support Galileo, praying late into the night for its success? The answer to my question is not as I might wish it to be.

Lovesick and Sorrow

Mind you, I did score a tremendous triumph here in this very electronic space by telling you that the British government would end up having to build new aircraft carriers twice the size of the ones they were intending to. As ever, fond as I am of naval hardware, the mortifying fact remains that we're going to equip ourselves with defence kit but signally fail to make good our more serious deficency: that of not having a foreign policy. In one of those delightful Ealing comedy turns that so frequently punctuate what passes for the reality of public life in Britain, the Admiralty has agreed its terms to the salvage of a warship lost in 1694 in the Mediterranean. The HMS Sussex of the day went down with some 1 million in gold coins in her hold. This was the subsidy to buy the loyalty of the Duke of Savoy during the Anglo-Scottish state's tussle with Louis XIV's France during the Nine Year's War. A war well worth it, we can all no doubt agree, for what it did to secure Dutch liberty, banking, and dull landscape painting. Anyway, that million quid now translates, the government greedily hopes, to anywhere up to $4 billion. Or the price of one of those aircraft carriers. If only we had cause to use them in our own interest. Maybe, I don't know, for the Canadian logging industry perhaps, we could threaten Vermont the next time the US is busy intimidating the Chinese with its carriers? The only problem being, they'd probably be more than happy to offload this state on us.

Are You Lost In Sin?

Yesterday saw a sad, to my eyes at any rate, little event in London. For years now wartime reunion groups, from the Great War on, have been staging their final march-pasts in front of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. And with them the old men shuffling past take another little bit of our bloody recent history firmly towards the grave of collective memory. Sunday 7th October saw the final annual parade of the Palestine Police Force, a brave and honourable company of men who, from 1920 to 1948 did what they could to fairly and humanely bring law and order to that benighted former Ottoman province. My own family, in various military and civil guises, contributed their bit to this imperial enterprise, and I for one can't, hand on heart, say that I think the Levant is any better or more Godly governed than, uh, when we were doing it. Soon enough Palestinian terrorists will emulate their Jewish forebears and establish some kind of grisly ethno-state, and as any sane libertarian must (I'm not one incidentally), you do have to ask, is statehood really worth it?

Down Down Down

One especially jealous and possessive state is of course the American model. Not content with doing all it can to tax its citizens who take the unexceptional decision to live outside its borders, the United States is now telling foreign governments what they can and cannot, in their own jurisdictions, put those nationals on trial for. In the high old days of imperialism there was a perfectly useful word for this: capitulations. These were the protocols which governed the way any number of heathen little regimes were obliged to treat Western Christians resident within their borders. One rule for one, all that sort of thing. In recent years this approach to international relations, being more than somewhat patronising and lop-sided, has fallen out of favour. Until now that is.

DC is doing all that it can to ensure, with every bullying and blustering trick it possesses, that American citizens offending, arrested and tried overseas will not be subject to the new International Criminal Court (if that's where their crime takes them) regardless of whether the foreign country in question has signed up for the ICC. Now the court's an awful mess of a thing, which we shouldn't have anything to do with, but as things stand, and with our government to the fore, it's more than likely that very soon you or me, British or non-American foreign, living in Britain, won't be able to contemplate committing a war-crime without having to worry about the sodding ICC. Whereas our American chums can carry on as gaily as they like. This ought to be an intolerable situation for a British Conservative, but guess what? Uh huh.

Stop Beating Around the Bush

If the United States that most Tories roll over in front of was the pistol packin' preacher they habitually take it for, it would still be disagreeable but at least explicable after a fashion. But the sad state of affairs is that, on the world stage, the contemporary US is more a sleazy, Clintonian hood, content to shove the rest of the world round if it has to, if only because the baseball bat of moral authority has ended up in its sweaty palms, and only then, if it has to. It's not as if there is any greater cause to go round duffing folk up other than the fact that the US presently just 'is there', it's number one, and for the simple sake of number oneness its rulers can justify to themselves their current foreign policy. All of this has been much better examined by Joseph Stromberg with his elegant exposition of the 'Bushnev doctrine'. What, however, cannot now be denied is that the interests of the United States, if ever they were convergent with our own, are entirely divorced from them. They have set themselves a different purpose, and we should be among those who seek to resist it. The best thing we have going for us is that once that resistance is voiced, that's when American imperialism stops being so easy, and that's when the American people will sit up and notice, and tell their government: remind us again, why are we doing this? And that answer's going to be worth hearing.

– 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.

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