November 20, 2002
Our Sorry State
of the under-explored aspects of the upcoming war against Iraq is
whether it's really upcoming at all. Whether, in fact, it's much
as many of the leading personalities involved Colin Powell,
a plurality of his American peers still in uniform, even by times,
President Bush himself (and of course the hapless British)
would have it: that they're talking war to make peace. That
to get Iraq, and the rest of the world, to the stage it's at at
the moment, required a lot of plausible threats. This isn't to say
that the saner faction in the administration were 'bluffing' per
se, but that, at heart, they'd rather Saddam gave way without a
fight. Indeed, ratcheting up the tension, making a war of 'regime
change' seem inevitable, has been a conscious, hopefully successful,
aspect of this pacific strategy, their argument could run. Though
obviously it's hardly one anyone in a position of power is liable
to give voice to anytime soon. Do we think this is a serious explanation
for what's going on at the moment? We might wish to at least consider
it when we reflect on those most viciously opposed to it: neocons;
counter cultural freaks; and cynics.
would simply say that this isn't the way the world works, and that
history doesn't proceed along designs and plans, but happens in
spite of them. Cynics are invariably right, but the missing component
in their critique is always the moral dimension. Intentionality
does matter, and we do have a duty to judge people in light of what
it was they were trying to do. A Colin Powell talking war, all the
better to avoid war, is a different kettle of fish to a salivating
Bill Kristol, or a Max 'there's too many still alive' Boot. Neocons,
as we know, positively fear that this is what's happening, and for
reasons of their own factional weakness have to be circumspect in
how they go about denouncing Mr Bush for 'letting this happen'.
And as for the Trots, and the assorted other space cadets of the
hard left, well, they're so smart that they've long ago seen behind
all the superficial stuff you and me are fooled by. They wouldn't
be so naive as to fall for anything blood-sucking imperialist war-mongers
like Mr Powell have to say for themselves (it's a very nuanced position,
is the hard left's).
tell you the truth, I've no idea who or what's right about what,
chiefly the American, but also the British, governments would like
to do in Iraq. Neither is united on the subject, still less do they
share a common understanding of what the fruits of victory in such
a war would be. It is worth asking ourselves, what is 'the stage
it's at'? Even if the Powell/presumably Blair line is the
one that the dominant faction in the Anglo-American position (or
'war machine', if you're left wing, and prefer toddlers' slogans)
adhere to, is it a sensible one worth all the subtle effort to get
us here? I'd suspect not, but it's worth thinking about. All of
which has been a very long winded way of getting round to the thinking
of the man, on the British side, who ought to have the most thoughts
on this, and all other foreign policy topics: our foreign secretary,
Jack Straw. And what a booby he is.
hasn't been much in the way of 'great Labour foreign secretaries',
though arguably Ernie Bevin was the most able foreign secretary
we had in the twentieth century. Jack Straw, however, is a limp
excuse of a man, a career Labour flack, sometime barrister and student
leader, turned cod-moral authoritarian, and soundbite hungry home
secretary. For reasons related to obedience more than anything else,
when Tony Blair cast off Robin Cook, and stretched fully those 2nd
term prime ministerial wings (when it becomes very much a case of,
'it's the international junkets, stupid'), Mr Straw was the neutered
henchman he turned to instead. The Foreign Secretary has now, a
year and a half into the job, betrayed the bien-pensant assumptions
that riddle his being, and reminded us yet again that no matter
how awful, unrealistic and subservient to the Americans the Tories
are, they'd still be better in power than this shower.
an interview with the political editor of the New Statesman,
Mr Straw goes out of his way to show to the left-liberal magazine's
readership what a voice for common sense he and other British ministers
are in the counsels of those deranged folk on the other side of
the Atlantic. It's full of the usual sly, patronising asides that
are designed to show, 'well God only knows what those cowboys would
have done if we hadn't had a mature talk with them'. Then there
was the habitual waffle about, for example, 'Britain's position
on Israel', as if we either had one, or it would matter if we did.
But that's all as may be it was just domestic political suck-up
anyway the meat of the interview, leastways as far as anyone
concerned with the marginally esoteric subject of British foreign
policy, was in what Mr Straw revealed about the mindset he brings
to the world beyond Britain. This, as you might have been able to
guess, though not the full cringe-worthy awfulness, is lefty, beat-me-up
certainly the prejudices I'm about to list are what Mr Straw really
thinks, if he has to think about the world, but they're not actually
that important. He isn't hugely interested in abstract matters of
foreign policy, and such political principles as he's ever held
have always proven to be fairly disposable. So what does Jack Straw
bring to the job what sort of foreign minister does he want to
be, and what does he hope he will achieve?
socialist, number one. Engaged. Active. Trying to secure a more
peaceful and prosperous world, and one that is founded on, rooted
in, our commitment to the UN and international law.
laughing all you Serbs at the back when you hear a Labour foreign
minister, in anticipation of bombing folk, drivel on about the sanctity
of 'international law'. Interestingly, and again, I think this is
more to do with the nature of his pitch to a British political audience,
and nothing whatsoever to do with what sort of foreign policy he
thinks we should have, Mr Straw goes out of his way to have a slap
at Robert Cooper. Far from being a 'let's impose democracy and smoke
free zones and gender equality everywhere' sort of man, the foreign
secretary assures us that he has no time for this sort of 'liberal
don't agree with that stuff. I'm not a liberal imperialist. There's
quite a lot wrong with liberalism, with a capital L, although I
am a liberal with a small L . . .
. . and words, let alone letters, mean whatever Jack Straw wants
them to. No idea what all the small L, Big L stuff means, more a
case of flaming 'ell guv, you mean you don't want to export Western
notions of human rights at bomb point to strategically important
bits of the 3rd world? You could have fooled me.
there's a reason why Mr Straw has made this odd claim, because he
was gearing up to divulge the following:
there's a lot wrong with imperialism. A lot of the problems we are
having to deal with now, I have to deal with now, are a consequence
of our colonial past.
could stop the train and get off here because, even if this had
a shed of truth to it, the question would remain, 'why does that
mean we have to go about the world "solving" things today?
Isn't your analysis rather that it was us going about putting people
and things to rights that caused the trouble in the first place?'
More than methodological madness, what's truly objectionable about
the foreign secretary's affected understanding of his own country's
past is the sheer ignorance of it all.
just run through the world your problems remember, rather
than Britain's according to Jack, and how we would be better off
Pakistan we made some quite serious mistakes. We were complacent
with what happened in Kashmir, the boundaries weren't published
until two days after independence. Bad story for us, the consequences
are still there. Afghanistan where we played less than a
glorious role over a century and a half.
appealing clipped speech-pattern that, but that's about the only
thing you can say for this rubbish. Take Afghanistan (where we won
more wars there than we lost): what exactly was our great historic
crime? Er, to keep the Russians out, and to knock over regimes which
got a bit too nutty and put in place ones we thought more highly
of. Is this the history Mr Straw feels deathly embarrassed about?
Or India for pity's sake: whose fault was partition? The colonisers
or the decolonisers? The Imperial power or the post-imperial power?
Who killed the untold millions of 1947? The British? Not hardly.
The only mistake we made about granting independence to India was
granting independence to India.
odd lines for Iraq's borders were drawn by Brits. The Balfour declaration
and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians
in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis
again an interesting history for us but not an entirely honourable
'Israelis' this anachronistic arse means 'Jews'; and though some
of you may fear I've just eaten five stone of unsold Commentaries,
it's equally absurd to speak of 'Palestinians' in 1917. It's a nice
morality tale though, isn't it? Where both sets of badly behaved
foreign goon are actually, much like children, innocent the pair
of them, because, lambs that they are, they were duped by the cunning
British. It's not that the foreign secretary necessarily needs to
go off and learn
by rote, it's just that anyone with whatever limited
pretensions to being a statesman might want to wise up just a touch.
Gee, golly, gosh, Britain's wartime declarations didn't square up
with what happened in the peace should we have been more
uncompromising in our imposition of the peace in the Middle East,
so that we got our way, or should we have abstained entirely from
the making of promises? The real childishness, however, and it's
reflected in the infantile Palestinian and Israeli discourses which
still give voice to this, is that of assuming anyone was
being sincere. That the Zionists as much as any of the Arab factions
revolting against the Turks were being 'honest' in what they said,
that they delivered, to the extent they could, what they promised,
or that either [sic] sides' goals were more congenial or
realistic than those of the British. No alternative on offer was
better than the one inter-war Middle East got.
Straw, it turns out, has private, presumably well-modulated, 'huge
arguments' with President Mugabe (another promising product of decolonisation)
over how best to run a country. You or I, picking up on the general
drift of Jack Straw's remarks thus far might have wondered, what
business is it of ours what way Robert Mugabe governs his country,
but seemingly not. 'However', the foreign secretary confides, 'when
any Zimbabwean, any African [they're all the same you see], says
to me land is a key issue . . . the early colonisers were all about
ownership, a cause no doubt dear to Mr Straw's fervent democratic
socialist heart, in the pre-colonial space currently called Zimbabwe
was about as honest and extensive as it is today in Robert Mugabe's
kleptocracy. The only time 'land ownership' was ever fairly, humanely
and lawfully distributed was during the colonial period, and that
self-same colonial government severely capped the number of whites
who could buy land in Southern Rhodesia. Everything, every last
lazy notion of Mr Straw's is fantasy. That we should be ruled by
men like this.
Jack Straw carries with him everywhere a copy of the UN's charter,
and quotes large chunks from memory on demand. Whatever Americans,
or Frenchmen, or Russians might think of their foreign ministers,
just be grateful you're not saddled with this one. Jack Straw's
ambition for Britain is as non-existant as his grasp of our past:
it almost makes you grateful how irrelevant we have made ourselves.