October 14, 2002

They'll Come For Us Next

Profound Feelings of Inadequacy

It's the double standards that gets me – no, cancel that, it's the spineless me-tooism that's really so revolting. I don't 'blame' the United States for being the number one nation, still less for doing number one nation stuff, but what does get to me each time is the degree and direction of the self-deception British conservatives practice on themselves. Put bluntly: are we really now such a nation of Quislings that we would suck up to whoever the hegemon was, or is America, for the right in this country, a 'special case'? If this madness is in some way value-based, that is to say, there is something recognisably good in what the United States gets up to, and that's why we're so pathetically at their heels, then it should be easy to identify. And because of its universal moral application, we should also be able to see when other nations are adhering to it (and, on those rare occasions, we should even be able to see when the US is not). Yet every time one tries to apply this test to the discourse of the British right, it always boils down to: America, wrong or right. We even laugh at the misfortunes of France and Germany when American disfavour falls on them. Well, whatever can be said of the rights or wrongs of individual French or German policies that annoy Washington, at least they have the guts to follow some every now and again. We are evidently so whimperingly scared of offending America that all we can do is utter ever shriller denunciations of her foes.

Oh that we could be more like the French, and of course, this doesn't apply simply vis-à-vis bilateral or multi-lateral relations with the United States, it also applies to our basic approach to the EEC, to NATO, and to the whole mad Atlanticist nonsense of the Cold War. One of the besetting sins of the Foreign Office is 'chicken-littleism', which is to say, if we do any one of a number of frightful things, then the sky will fall in our heads, and that will be that. The 'how' or the 'why' in all of this is rarely laid out in cold detail, but then it's such a given that it doesn't, to any normal or rational person, need explaining. Thus, if Britain had 'impeded' progress towards European integration by, for instance, rejecting the Treaty of Maastricht a decade ago, then . . . cripes, it wouldn't have been nice. Exactly what the non-niceness would or could have amounted to is, you will notice, a vague proposition, but that this was the driving force behind the civil service advice which so enraptured poor John Major is undeniable. However, if we take this schema and apply it to the marvelous French, were they at the time tying themselves up in worry-knots about what rejection of the Treaty might have meant for France? Don't be silly – and, famously, they came desperately close in their referendum.

This, if you like, is just one more in a wearisomely long list of post-Suez British inadequacies: we are scared of the dark. There was no awful fate awaiting us if we had rejected Maastricht, any more than there was for the French if they had. The difference between the two governing classes was that theirs had the self-confidence to know this. If you tried pinning a British civil servant down with the query, 'quite what would happen to us if we didn't sign up to European integration?' illusory chit-chat about 'isolation' tends to predominate, and 'being left behind', and 'not influencing events', that's another one they like. All tosh, but powerful, mind altering tosh – and an ingrained habit of mind in the FCO.

Let us reflect some more on the post-war career of France: she, in a fit of pique, withdrew from the military structure of NATO for most of the Cold War, until, in fact, it had ceased being of military consequence whether she was in or out. Let us further agree that the Cold War was the bee's knees, the top issue, the big enchilada: the sort of thing that democratic governments got overthrown for if they didn't play ball. Of all the serious inter-state jobs of work under way between 1947 and 1989, this was the thing. Now...had at any point any British politician been mad enough to say that we too could do whatever our 'Western' bit was, but that we'd do it outside NATO's military structure, he'd have suffered pretty much the public fate of early Amerosceptics like Enoch Powell. Every single establishment-minded nonce who could have been found would have said – as they did – that to contemplate such a thing would be to risk the security of the West (Britain being so much more central to that than France), and, worse even than this, such an act would have left Britain 'irrelevant on the world stage', not taken seriously by our allies [sic], all that sort of rubbish.

Now, as you will recall, the French did do just about the worst thing possible: they huffed, walked out, and stayed out until the Cold War was over. What have been the long-term consequences for France of this act? None, I would venture to say, which have been in any way demonstrably harmful to her interests. Quite the reverse – she struck out for a policy objective for reasons which may not have been entirely creditable, but she stuck to her guns, as it were, and accrued the diplomatic capital of being, what's the word – independent. We shouldn't belabour the point, their divisions may not have been integrated formally into the NATO command structure in Germany, but they were there, they were well-armed, and they knew full well what they would be doing in relation to their peers if war came. Really, it wasn't about much more than preserving some basic self-respect, and that's hardly a cause obnoxious to conservative hearts. But it's unquestionably the case that the collective wisdom of the British civil service is, we'd have been finished if we'd tried the same thing. Why is there this comprehensive lack of faith in Britain, by the British? That's a book of an answer, but the nature of the problem can perhaps be illustrated by looking at our behaviour towards our European peers.

France Today

Conrad's man on the spot in France is Philip Delves Broughton, sometime gossip columnist and rising Old Etonian hack. In other words, a perfect cynosure of very piece of received wisdom on any subject you are ever likely to encounter. Recently Mr Delves Broughton reported back to us, a right wing British audience, the failings of France, and guess what? 'Anti-Americanism' tops a pretty heinous list. We've wondered before quite why some of these things are so bad when other countries do them, but so admirable for the Telegraph when the US gets up to anything similar, but as it's all there, in depressing and familiar form, we may as well go through this catechism one more time.

France is suffering from (remember, in this context, this is bad) a 'new isolationism', and 'a sure sign of this is...the anti-American bile sloshing through French life'. Heaven forfend that public debate in America should be larded with Francophobe sneering, golly no, American conservatives are too big and sure of themselves to descend to that level. Anyway, the French, the bastards, have been (cover your ears gentle Yanqui readers) 'sneering' at the US. You wonder how the place will ever recover. In one especially outrageous piece of abuse, they've, uh, they've . . . actually the evidence of France's great rhetorical crimes against (American) humanity kinda dries up at this point, in as much as none is presented. Unless, obviously, you count as expression of an intolerable opinion – the UN equivalent of hate-speech – the fact that, the thing is, you see, the French, they haven't agreed with the Americans on every last thing they've done or said, now, retrospectively or unconditionally into the future, the fiends. That's it – no great examples of linguistic assaults on the American war-mongering imperialist pigs are cited, still less is any actual, well modulated, but infuriatingly snooty nonetheless, French opposition to US foreign policy examined. As we have said before, it is a measure of the unworthy hysteria attendant on those who set themselves up as defenders of the current American regime that they can't handle even the slightest lack of enthusiasm, let alone criticism. The sad thing is that we are Hessian hacks in this gruesome game.

To show what a bad egg M. Chirac is, Mr Delves Broughton alludes to the man's garlic-reeking, generalised air of shadiness. Imagine, the idea that a Western democracy could have a blatant crook as its head of state for, oh, eight years. That's the sort of thing that could easily erode a country's moral authority. And get this, in Africa the squalid French, do you know what they do? They patronise awful little dictatorships. Could you conceive of a civilised country doing such a thing? Moving on, what France is doing that's so terribly wrong is that she is 'sticking' it to the US. But as we have to keep repeating, all she's doing is refusing to whoop and holler at the prescribed decibel level. I suppose at one level it's understandable why British conservatives should be keen to squeal and shout at France for doing this sort of thing, since if we stayed silent and pondered it, we might come to some shaming conclusions about ourselves.

In standard, unthinking fashion, France – which has a higher standard of living than Britain – is told that she has to sign up to Thatcherism, because otherwise she's just being silly, and honestly, who could pay attention to a state like that? Though, it has to be said, in terms of attention that is being paid to any country other than America over Iraq, understandably it's the countries with concerns to express that are being listened to. All Britain is doing is nodding, and frankly, we could do that on our own. To end, we are presented with the fabulously patronising little aperçu that:

France is going to take some time cleaning up its own backyard before it can return to polite society.

Somehow I feel that France is going to be able to put this exclusion in perspective. What the British Right needs to think on, is why is the unconscious fear revealed here, that nothing could be worse than being 'on the outside', so peculiarly terrifying for us? Why do we think that we would be so less capable of handling this than the French so patently, and easily, can?

The lesson from France should be that Britain should put the phantoms of American disapproval behind her; indeed, prolonged study of what the 'special relationship' gives us surely shows that it's nothing more than a relatively painless neutering mechanism?

'Swines, Sewers, Filthy Boche!'

Were I foreign secretary, what, obviously, we'd be doing, is selling arms to those countries that are in urgent need of them – you know, because they're about to be bombed by, ah, the country that likes to bomb other countries a lot. Mind you, that'll have to wait till after my immediate project which is to see (and I'm not sure if I know enough Germans to make this a viable project) the insatiably blood thirsty Victor David Hanson suffer a stroke. An extreme objective, tasteless even? Sure, but I'm sorely tired of having to read all these neocon turds casually calling for nameless thousands to be slaughtered without there being any fight back.

Prof. Hanson has as his first intimation of heavy blackness, and suddenly limp limbs the fact that the Krauts have [duck! take cover! turn over your school table and paint it white against the flash!] criticised Dubya. Before we swiftly proceed to the full, near-unimaginable horror of all this, we must be happy to acknowledge that, 'Germany is a sovereign nation and can and must do as it sees fit. It has a perfect right to express its foreboding forcefully' – though, 'VD' classlessly avers, anyway 'no one, here or there, has ever envisioned concrete German help in freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein'. In other words, it's not that the Hun is arming the enemy, or supplying them with mercenaries, or generally getting in the way: they're just mouthing off, and this is what cannot be allowed to stand.

It's all utterly dishonest of course. For when Germany dares to act on this permission to be a sovereign state, that turns out to be 'creepy rhetoric':

Schröder promised that Germans would not simply 'click their heels'. He talked of the 'German way' (deutscher Weg), stressing that Germany was a 'modern' country (with autobahns no less?), where decisions will 'be made in Berlin – and only in Berlin'. Based on that eerie verbiage, a Mel Brooks movie could not have offered a better caricature of repressed nostalgia for the 1930s.

Possibly it was just bad luck? Maybe Germany is allowed to say what she wants, it's just that in this instance she simply said the wrong thing? Uh huh. That's indeed what it is, but clearly it's beyond the likes of Vic to see why it looks as if all that the United States has granted Germany is permission 'to say the right thing'.

The substance of Prof Hanson's article is all the usual rubbish – incontinent, unfounded allegations of anti-semitism, queenly sneering because some bitch dared sneer first, and boasting about a war, sixty years ago, which America had to be bombed into (thereby negating, ever so slightly, the idea that this was an irresistible crusade they jumped into at the earliest opportunity) – with the bonus ingredient that, if the sausage-munching shower don't come into line, and pronto, then crikey, Uncle Sam's off back home, or at least, off to 'a number of neighbouring countries eager to open replacement bases'. As if. Or as we would have said in my childhood: go on, I dare ya. Bluster, balls and baloney: the quintessential recipe cooked up by a man less intellectually flexible than Lenin, c. 1922, scrub that, chemically-pickled Lenin c.2002 is more imaginative and curious than Victor David Hanson is.

You'd never guess when reading Germany's catalogue of crimes that all they ever do is talk, when it comes to serious action, it's always the Americans you have to turn to. Whatever offence against all that's right and sweet, whatever it is we're (about to be) fighting for in the Middle East, the salient point to remember is: the milksop latter-day Prussians have sat on their hands for half a century and haven't a worldly sin to their name, conversely, the Americans – the Americans are better off forgetting quite what all's in the ledger.

Why Britain is so especially wet in comparison to Germany and France is that, even less than them, there's no effective US sanction available to apply to us, and yet we do it willingly. It's going to be a long, long time before our beloved European partners stop sneering at us, and who's to gainsay them their sport?

– 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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