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The widening channel

So it appears that we are now a few days, or possibly even a few hours, away from being engaged in an honest-to-goodness, actual, balls-out, fighting war. Despite the misgivings of Antoine Clarke, I believe HM forces will acquit themselves admirably although there is no doubt that the bulk of the war effort will fall upon the much larger US contingent.

We are here now because Tony Blair has prevailed over the anti-war sentiments of much of his own party. Without wishing to sing his praises per se, he has confounded the sizeable number of British commentators who believed that he did not possess the spine to see through his pro-war commitment. He clearly does and he clearly has. Last night’s vote in the House of Commons, on a motion to delay hostilities with Iraq, was defeated despite a record number of Labour rebels voting for it and, ironically, with most of the opposition Conservatives voting against.

Of the Conservatives who voted for the motion, some are undoubtedly what Mark Steyn has called ‘defeatist patricians’. In all but name they are Social Democrats and are driven by sentiments that are not so much anti-American as they are pro-EU. For them, the top-down, corporatist paternalism of Europe is much more resonant of the natural order of things than the racey vulgarity they see as intrinsic to the American way of doing thigs.

But there are others on the British right who are vigourously opposed to Britain taking any part in the attack on Iraq not because they harbour anti-American sentiments (indeed, they heartily reject such nonsense) but because they believe that it is not in British national interests to do so. They are far from confident that any US administration would go to bat for Britain in the way that Britain has gone to bat for America and whilst this may or may not prove to be the case, they (and I) do have genuine cause for complaint about the kid gloves that successive US administrations have put on when dealing with the IRA.

However, it would appear that at least some of isolationist argument in this regard is based on the erroneous (and largely left-inspired) view that Tony Blair is merely acting as George Bush’s ‘poodle’; that he will get his ‘orders’ direct from Washington and that he will send British troops off to yomp around the planet in whatever direction the Whitehouse commands.

It is this kind of thing that makes for good copy, but it is not actually true. For good or for bad, Blair has very much acted as his own man throughout this whole affair. Had it not been for Tony Blair, the Americans would almost certainly have not agreed to take (the ultimately fruitless) UN route to disarming Saddam. Had George Bush had his way, the war in Iraq would, by now, have been over and done with. Try telling anyone in Washington that Tony Blair is their ‘poodle’. I think you will be sharply disabused of any such view. But, aside from our relationship with the Americans, there is one issue on which the isolationists and I see eye-to-eye and that is the matter of the European Union; when it comes to the EU, I am the Mother-of-all-Isolationists. I want to see Britain out of it. Not a renegotation, or a realingment or a partial detachment but out. For good.

Up until very recently, views such as this were considered to be both extreme and marginal in this country. Nearly everybody who was anybody considered our membership of the EU to be of vital importance and beyond question. Certainly the overwhelming majority of our political and media classes were united in their belief that Britain simply had no future outside of the EU.

Well, times they-are-changin’ and in some surprising quarters:

When will the British wake up from their pathetic little dreams of being Europeans and realise that we have been looking for our future in all the wrong places?

Who wants to be European today? Who wants to be an ungrateful, unprincipled, two-faced, pacifist, Euro-grasping, oil-hungry Lilliputian?

Some right-wing American? No, that is the view of the notably left-of-centre British journalist Tony Parsons.

And it is not just in Britain that our future membership of the Euro-club is being called into question either. Some Europeans no longer believe that we belong:

He was able to understand the real consequences of Britain’s decision: the country’s possible isolation from Europe. The comment by the Greek Presidency on Britain and Spain’s attitude in the matter was eloquent: “with their actions they have placed themselves outside the framework of the European Union.”

Nor, does it appear, that this is all just rhetoric. British officials appear to be dragging their feet in this project all of a sudden:

The British government has rejected the Convention’s plan to create a European public prosecutor. This new legal body would be based in Brussels, dealing with serious crimes affecting more than one European Union member state, reports the Ananova.

Would we have been treated to headlines like that, even a year ago? I rather doubt it.

Of course none of this means that British independence from the EU is either inevitable or imminent. Who knows, perhaps, when the dust has settled over Baghdad, Mr.Blair will move to repair our damaged ties with the Franco-German axis with the same kind of missionary zeal that he has displayed in his support for the US. After all, prior to this war, Mr.Blair was widely seen as by far the most Federastic Prime Minister that Britain has had since Edward Heath. Has he changed his mind? I have no idea.

I do know that, as is so often the case, it is events not arguments which change the world. I am pretty sure that, had it not been for Blair’s determination to commit British forces to the removal of Saddam Hussein, had we stood aside and let the Americans go their own sweet way, then the anti-EU movement in this country would have remained as marginal as it always been and the British fly would go on being gradually and quietly sucked dry by the EU spider.

As it is, harmony has become discord, cooperation has given way to mutual distrust and the settled view both here and in Europe is now shot through with angry debate and denunciations. How can any conservative or libertarian in this country plausibly maintain that this is not in our national interests? I humbly submit that it is our priority national interest.

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25 comments to The widening channel

  • Jacob

    A small remark:
    “They are far from confident that any US administration would go to bat for Britain in the way that Britain has gone to bat for America ”
    Britain has gone to bat for America ??
    You mean – the removal of Saddam wasn’t a worthy goal in itself, and Britain only entered the war to hold the hands of America, so America would not feel alone and sad ?
    Of course America’s friendship is a valuable asset, but what about the war on terrorism – is that no bussiness of Britain ?

    About the EU – it is bad, I agree, but I think you loose too much sleep over it. It is an ineffective, clumsy contraption, bound to colapse because of it’s inner contradictions. It is on it’s way to becoming another UN – an irrelevant nonesense (though costly).

  • Just a quick question: What are your opinions on bodies such as EFTA (of which Britain was a member prior to its enrollment in the EEC)? Would you object to Britain being a member of a multilateral trade agreement, or do you think such agreements should be bilateral only?

  • Della

    Another interesting thing that has come up today are the wiretaps found in the Brussels offices of six EU delegations: Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria

    I have several ideas as to who could have done it most likely to least likely:
    Russia
    Belgium
    France
    Britain (but why would they tap Austria’s phones?)
    Germany
    USA (but why would they tap Austria’s phones?)
    China? (Are they interested in internal EU politics?)

    If it turned out to be an EU member that did it the consequences would be very serious for the EU, possibly leading to that member being kicked out or even a breakup. If the USA did it, (which is what the French think, but personally I doubt it), the blame could be redirected to Britain.

    I think the people most likely to have done it are the Russians, since that’s their style. This might have some blowback on the French who’ve been cozying up to the Russians lately, but the consequences wouldn’t be too serious since that’s pretty much what you expect from the Russians.

  • jk

    “Without wishing to sing his praises per se…” It must be hard. I was never too sure about Mr. Blair’s European-leanings and “third-way” socialism.
    But this grouchy American has been blown away by his courage and leadership. It was stunning to watch him in the House of Commons. A friend and I are both loyal W supporters but we were wishing yesterday that we had someone with the Prime Minister’s eloquence and charisma.
    I hope this episode causes him to lean back across the Atlantic.

  • FeloniousPunk

    Wiretaps: I highly doubt that the US was behind that. All questions of motive beside, the US has far more sophisticated methods of ELINT. However, I think the chances of the EU blaming it on the US regardless are good to excellent.

    My money is on the French, and I imagine they wished the taps to be found and blamed on the Americans. But who knows – maybe it’s a backup for when Echelon crashes? 😉

  • Johan

    “Iraqi troops surrender – report – 19:16 19/3/03
    There are reports Iraqi troops have already begun surrendering to allied forces….”

    collected from Ananova.com Whether this is true or not remains to see. And this war not being a concern for Britains national interests? I’m not British myself so I can not say yes or no. But linking back to previous stories posted on Samizdata.net about that evil neighboor, doing nitty gritty things…it’s not within your domestic (national) interest so why bother? I’d do something about it, and I’m glad Britain is doing something about Saddam. I wish Sweden would be ruled by a right-wing government so that we could do something…but then again, we don’t have any defence or military left (due to 60+ yrs of left-wing rule) so I put that thought under the category of wishful thinking. Go Bush and Go Blair.

  • Ian Geldard

    Is the removal of Saddam Hussein a worthy goal?

    Well, there are many regimes I would like to see changed and individual leaders driven from office. Tony Blair and New Labour to start with …

    But what right has the US/UK Imperialist Alliance to declare war on another country that is not an act of self-defence? Is it in anyone’s interest to condone such interventionst wars of regime change? Where does it end?

    Is it in anyone’s interest to stir up forces of opposition to such imperialist aggression among ordinary Arabs/ muslims? Even many ‘moderate’ regimes in the region are feeling growing hostility to such actions.

    The legacy of this campaign – even with lightning success and minimal casualties (which may not happen) could be to entrench anti-US/UK hostility in the region and sponsor a surge of international terrorism.

  • Blair is definitely not Bush’s poodle. Far too dangerous for that with his notions of collective security.

    If anyone in Europe is tapped…it’s Blair.

    As for Britain going to bat for America, it still shocks me that Jacob and likeminded individuals take umbrage if Britain actually states taht some policies should be reshaped for our interest which do differ from America’s.

  • Della

    Ian,

    The removal of Saddam is a worthy goal, he has killed 500,000 Iraqis and 500,000 people from other countries. Every day new attrocities occur, women have petrol thrown over them and set aflame, people have their tounges cut out for criticising Saddam, people are shredded in large shreding machines, people are shot, raped and tortured.

    I wonder how many murdered children it would take for you to be convinced that he is in the wrong and should go…perhaps you go by Stalins maxim that 1 death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is just a statistic.

    You talk of imperialism, Saddam is an imperilist, he invaded Iran, then he invaded Kuwait. Indeed, the last 500 of the Iranian prisoners of the Iran/Iraq war were only released today after being held for 14 years for no particularly good reason.

    You talk of increased terrorism from this conflict, however Al-Queida and similar terrorist groups already indicated several years ago that they wanted to destroy us, and they’re not going to stop wanting to destroy us if we appease Saddam.

    You ask where regime change will end…in all likleyhood it will end for now with Sadam. That is a pity in a way since there are so many awful men in this world, and so much murder going on. Far more people were killed in the last century by their own goverments than all the terrible wars that happened. I have heard that every year in China there are 600,000 forced abortions, and to me each one of them (since it is forced) is a murder of a child. But the left doesn’t care about that, murder is a-OK by them so long so long as it is perpitrated by dictators and tyrants who pay lip service to socialism.

  • Alice Bachini

    Ian,

    1. It *is* in self-defence,
    2. Yes, everyone’s interest,
    3. It ends when the world is free of evil dictators who fund terrorism,
    4. Opposition forces are already stirred up, but winning the war in Iraq will calm them down a bit,
    5. The war will *reduce* terrorism, by cutting off one of its sponsors.

    That idea that one shouldn’t fight evil people because it only upsets them and gets us hurt all the more… I think it’s called cowardice.

  • Ian Geldard

    Della,

    There are lots of nasty regimes in the world. Iraq is just one of them. The genocide in Rwanda hardly caused a ripple in international affairs – so it obviously isnt a serious factor. Russia’s action in Chechnya, or China’s in Tibet are comparable. When do the bombs drop on Moscow and Beijing?

    Yes, Saddam is a wannabe Imperialist – but nowhere near as active as the UK/USA Imperialist Alliance. Remember Somalia, Serbia etc. Just add up the number of countries the USA has attacked since, say, 1945 and compare it to Iraq.

    Yes, al-Qaeda doesn’t like the US, they thrive on the idea that the west is an Imperialist aggressor that wishes to destroy Islam – and a war against Iraq will do what for their recruitment?

    China may indeed be murdering millions of its own citizens (putting aside abortion arguments just for the moment). Does that mean you would support an invasion of China to liberate it? Support bombing raids on Shanghai, Canton, Beijing? Marines wading ashore and paratroopers landing?

    Perpetual war for perpetual peace? The eradication of liberty and a huge increase in taxation at home to afford/control these wars of global liberation? What happens when you have to reintroduce the draft to support these adventures?

  • Jacob

    Ian,
    “Well, there are many regimes I would like to see changed and individual leaders driven from office. Tony Blair and New Labour to start with …”

    Meaning Saddam isn’t on your “to be removed” list ?

    If he is – then fine. No reason to oppose his removal. If he isn’t it means you hate Blair more than Saddam ?

  • Ian Geldard

    Alice,

    1/2. There was no credible threat against the USA/UK from Iraq – until war threatened Saddam which may result him lashing out.

    2. So it never ends, as there will always be some countries that will support ‘national liberation movements’ i.e. the US wrt. the Contras in Nicaragua, anti-Castro Cubans, etc.

    3. War against Iraq is likely to do just the oposite – stir up anti-Western feeling.

    4. Iraq is a marginal player in financial support for Islamic fundamentalism. If you’re serious about that – you’d need to attack Saudi Arabia – by far a greater supporter than Iraq.

  • Joel

    Is it not likely that, of all the nasty thuggish dictators in the world, Bush Blair Ltd went after Saddam first because there already seemed to be a multilateral basis for going after him? To build on what seemed a UN consensus rather than to wreck the UN? The UNSC has not ever gone to war against Syria, or Iran, or Zimbabwe, and even NK hasn’t violated 16 SC resolutions since the “UN” fought it (and China) to a draw 50 years ago. Of course, one can say they were naive to think the UN, even the UNSC, means what it says, and isn’t just the stage that “all the world” is.

  • Malcolm

    Jacob wrote:

    About the EU – it is bad, I agree, but I think you loose too much sleep over it. It is an ineffective, clumsy contraption, bound to colapse because of it’s inner contradictions. It is on it’s way to becoming another UN – an irrelevant nonesense (though costly).

    I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: the USSR was an ineffective, ecnomically non-viable and morally repugnant entity bound to collapse under the weight of its inner contradictions. But it still lasted long enough for people to be born and die under its shadow.

    Though it immediately became orthodoxy to say that “nobody guessed the USSR would collapse”, many did. I, for one, was completely confident that the USSR was doomed. I just din’t predict, when it fell apart in my 17th year, that it would die before I did.

    Fundamental non-viability is not a good guide to the collapse of empires, at least not to the date of their fall. Like a pressure-cooker, their governments can devote ever more weight to maintaining their own dominance. Like a pressure-cooker, this policy ultimately means a bigger explosion. But if the cook doesn’t expect to remain in the kitchen, he may not care.

  • Wiretaps were probably be French for two reasons:
    1. they were found out
    2. two French is paranoid that everyone is against them.

    That Tony Parsons quote is a kicker. Even his ex Burchill is coming on side…although do we really want her?

    Anyone curious about a Saudi view of this can go here:
    http://www.coldfury.com/Sasha/archives/003517.html#003517

  • Julian Morrison

    The worying countercase: just how much licking-boot is mr blair going to have to do to “repair” the EU? And what will be signed away or forced through in fudged referendums, in order to soothe the eurocrats dented egos?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ian, once more, the voice of isolationist foreign policy can be boiled down to this – the terrorists attacked us on 9/11, we had it coming, we must be nice boys from now on, must’nt upset the poor darlings, these Islamists are such delicate flowers, you know.

    Bush and Blair think different. Thank goodness.

  • Della

    Ian,

    Your argument seems to be that since we didn’t act in a moral fashion before (to prevent genocide) we must never act in a moral fashion. It is a common argument, and it is a stupid argument. Some of the genocidal regimes extant at the moment are too militarily powerful to take on at current, we could take on some of the less powerful ones though, as we are doing today, it would set an example.

    I don’t want perpetual war. We did try the tactics of eliminating things we didn’t like back in the 19th century. Taxes were far, far lower, there was no draft, in a lot of ways we were freer than now, and by contemporary standards we were very free. I wouldn’t say that that was the way to go about things now though.

  • Patrick W

    Ian,

    The point is not that Saddam is any more or less evil than other dictators around the world. The point is that certain strains of fundamentalist Islam seek to destroy the liberal West as an end in itself and that the dicatators of the Middle east and others in the ‘Axis of Evil’ are the one’s who might arm them with something horrific. Fuck Mugabe and other internationally harmless tinpots – they may be unsavoury but their existence doesn’t threaten us. But a coming together, even a potential coming together, of Saddam / Kim Jong Il / etc with the likes of Al Qaeda / Hisbollah / etc poses an unacceptable risk to the west. Sure Iraq hasn’t itself attacked us yet. Sure we have no concrete proof that Saddam has a spare nuke to give Bin Laden. I don’t care! I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world where this might happen. Kill the terrorists now. Kill rogue states that might arm them now. It’s that simple.

  • edwardvt

    Ian, you haven’t been listening to the message from Arab Islam. We did after 9 – 11. It is submit, convert or die. We Americans say: “None of the above!” To survive, we must change Islam, change the equation within Arab Islam by the introduction of Democracy to reduce and eliminate the conditions that breed these fanatics, or we must eliminate Islam.

    The Democratic Party’s politics of “Hate” (assisted by their liberal media echos) fosters the impression that President Bush is of limited intelligence; this is a comparison of a quiet man of conviction who represents much of what is the best of the American character against a glib Con man designed for Prime Time TV. If you wish to understand where America is going, study his speach after 9 – 11, then his address to West Point and last, his National Security Policy. Make no mistake, America is fighting for its right to exist, to remain the Home of the Free and a beacon for the World.

    Threat Assessment is a skill every intelligent person must master presuming they wish to prosper and survive. It is why some of us do better than others. Iraq is quite high on the scale and is a two-fer: we eliminate a major source of aid and comfort to terrorism and gain a base in the midst of our enemies from which to continue our campaign against radical Islam.

    Americans have long been Isolationists. We came here to leave behind the religious, tribal, clan and ethnic disputes and warfare – all of the baggage of the “Old World”. We created a Nation where we are governed only with our consent; where no King or Class holds any authority over us or our freedoms. And we will fight with every ounce of fury within us, with each and every weapon at our command to preserve and protect those freedoms. Direct your bitterness at what we do and what is to come at those that chose to involve us in a fight for our right to exist. We will never forgive and never forget! America will not go quietly into the night.

  • I’ve put in a reply, although links on blogger aren’t working, you’ll have to go to my web log:

    http://www.airstripone.blogspot.com

    It’s entitled “No great rift quite yet”

  • Ian Geldard

    Jonathan,

    The 9/11 attack was a consequence of American foreign policy. It was attacked because many Muslims view the US as the chief backer – militarily and financially of Isreal – and continues to base imperialist forces in the region. America is not considered to be an independent, neutral force, but actively pro-Israel and anti-Arab/Muslim.

    What will be the consequence of launching an invasion of an Arab country by US/UK forces without international backing? It will be to reinforce this attitude among hundreds of thousands of Muslims. A small proportion of these will go on to join al-Qaeda et al – but terrorists only need a small number.

    The US/UK forces may well crush Iraq in a matter of days. Saddam may be found hanging from piano wire in some remote bolt-hole – but the legacy of this action could be with us for the next 20/30 years. Military occupation, colonial administration, increased terrorism …

  • Ian Geldard

    Patrick W:

    “Certain strains of Islam seek to destroy the liberal west”

    Well reading some of the posts here it sounds that certain strains of Christianity/conservatism or (sadly) libertarianism seek to destroy Islam.

    That’s exactly the sort of hatred that gets you into endless crusades and reckless adventurism. It also divides you into two opposing camps which must defeat the other or die … but it needn’t be like that.

    Most Muslims are decent, honest, family-loving people. Just like Christians or Jews. They seek to extend it by example and piety. Even though I am an atheist, I admire many of their principles. We can learn much from each other.

    Armed aggression against Iraq etc. will drive similar regimes together. Wannabe terrorists will spring up all over the place. The US/UK will be reinforced as the main global enemy in the minds of many.

    Not a safer world, but more dangerous. As a father, I’d rather my son didn’t grow up in a world where this might happen.

  • Ian,

    I wholly agree with you about the majority of muslims.

    But, again, it is people like you who reinforcing the view that there is a connection between the Iraqi regime and radical Islam. You cannot plausibly propose that the deposing of Saddam will engender more Islamic terrorism whilst insisting that the two things are entirely separate.

    Why is it acceptable for muslims the world over to pledge themselves to the defence of Iraq but ‘none of Britain’s business’ when our closest Western ally (the USA) is horribly attacked?

    Ian, if you are going to propogate the view that radical Islam is best appeased by keeping Westerners out of Islamic lands then you will invariably fuel the fire of those few Westerners who belive that the reverse should also hold true.