The Chinese sage Kai Lung is reported to have remarked
never was there a truer proverb than that which says, ‘It is a mark of insincerity of purpose to spend one’s time in looking for the sacred Emperor in the low-class tea-shops’
but looking for sense in the Dear Leader’s speeches about his foreign policy must come close. Nevertheless, let’s give it a brief shot.
Addressing an audience aboard HMS Albion in Plymouth, Mr Blair apparently explained that
Britain must decide whether it wants to remain a military power, ready to engage in “hard” conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or be relegated to a softer peacekeeping role
Well, that sounds like a bit of a no-brainer, but it seems what Mr Blair actually means is that if we’re going to spend (or, as he would doubtless put it, ‘invest’) good money on having a sizeable military capability, we’re not wasting it on any of this softy peacekeeping stuff:
He acknowledged that the Government would have to spend more money on the Armed Forces – but in return, they must accept casualties in battle while the public must be prepared for long campaigns in trouble spots around the world.
That is, he seems to see the old dictum si vis pacem, para bellum, if you want peace, prepare for war, as ‘being not so much wrong, as just made for another age’ and in need of modernisation. No, the idea now is apparently, if you’ve got an army, go out and use it. Make them bloody well work for their money.
No, if ‘Britain wanted a leading presence on the world stage’, he continued,
it would mean continuing to send troops into dangerous places far away – as “the frontiers of our security no longer stop at the Channel”
Leaving aside the fact no one’s suggested ‘the frontiers of our security’ ‘stop at the Channel’ for quite some time, that’s a bit of unfortunate point to make since it recalls — at least to me — that just the other side of the Channel there’s a country with an equally large army, at least, which doesn’t seem to feel the need to send off hither and yon at America’s behest all the time.
The fight against al Qa’eda-style terrorism, which he likened to revolutionary Communism in its early and most militant phase”, would take a generation.
This comparison, if it’s meant to refer to anything in the real world, which I rather doubt, is about as ill-judged as could be imagined before Mr Blair came on the scene. Revolutionary Communism ‘in its early and most militant phase’ was, I take it, exemplified by the Russian Revolution. Well, we’ve been here — or rather another coalition of the willing was there in Russia in 1918–1920 — before, and it didn’t actually get us very far.
Moving right along, Mr Blair informed his audience that
Britain must maintain both its military and its diplomatic roles in the world. Without its “hard” military presence, its “soft” diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East and Africa and on climate change would be “inexorably” undermined.
Crikey. Without our ‘hard’ military presence, initiatives like Margaret Beckett’s recent trips to the Middle East would have come to nothing. It’s only because of our ‘hard’ military presence that the USA, India and China aren’t being even less co-operative over Kyoto than they are, and the G8 leaders only signed up to debt relief because Tony threatened to invade them if they didn’t. Well, as someone else who was famous for grinning ‘almost from ear to ear,’ to the extent that
`If he smiled much more the ends of his mouth might meet behind,’ she thought: `And then I don’t know what would happen to his head! I’m afraid it would come off!’
was so fond of remarking, and to much the same effect, there’s glory for you.
Having done the jokes, he then became — at least to my mind — downright offensive:
He hit out at the media’s portrayal of Britain’s military engagements which he claimed reinforced the view that Britain and the US are entirely to blame. The public was constantly bombarded by the propaganda of the enemy, “often quite sympathetically treated by their own media, to the effect that it’s all really our – that is the West’s – fault.”
That had an impact on the armed forces, who wanted people back home to acknowledge their courage in what they were undertaking.
Most of us, I think, are perfectly well capable of distinguishing between the courage of what our armed forces are undertaking, particulalry when they’re overstretched and under-equipped, and the folly of the people who send them into quagmires (if you can have quagmires in deserts) for no good reason. Not so much lions led by donkeys as lions directed by poodles.
He then treated his audience to the insight that
there was a risk that politicians decide it’s “all too difficult” and that “doing the right thing slips almost unconsciously into doing the easy thing”.
Mr Blair’s not like that; quite the opposite. He realises that it follows from this that the harder it is to do something, the better it must be; consequently, if it’s impossible, it must be the right thing to do. QED.
And, pace Mr Blair, we are not led to the opinion that he’s a disgrace, and that his adventure in Iraq is the greatest British foreign policy debacle since Suez, by ‘the propaganda of the enemy’. What Military Families Against the War and Reg Keys make of it, I shudder to think.