Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Independence and resentment

The Institute for Public Policy Research has set up an ‘Independent Commission on National Security in the 21st Century’. Fair enough; should be interesting. But in the coverage of it, I read: “It will also publish an independent national security strategy.”

This phrase is taken from the IPPR press release, but doesn’t appear in the more detailed description [PDF] of the commission’s purpose – so I’d guess it’s just the product of an IPPR press officer.

Which is good, because this talk about being “independent” is a bit daft and can be kind of weaselly too. You can see it most clearly in the phrase “independent foreign policy”. You know exactly what this is getting at: Bush is bad and Blair’s been too close to him. (This mirrors right-wing talk about “national sovereignty” vis-à-vis the EU.)

But is it remotely possible for a country like the UK (or even, frankly, the US) to have an effective foreign policy that’s formulated and implemented independently of allies and international institutions? And is this a respectable position for people who think of themselves as internationalists and who deplore American unilateralism at every turn?

Do they want a ‘not-in-my-name’ foreign policy along the lines of the alternate sulking and posturing that Chirac so excelled at?

Furthermore, I doubt that anyone – Blair included – seriously imagines that UK foreign policy objectives should systematically be determined by what the White House (or the EU, the UN or anyone else in the world) wants.

It’s often remarked that Bush is stupid. What’s more interesting is that he has the power to stupefy others, particularly middle-class European lefties, into a furious knee-jerk defiance.

I think one of the key reasons that the Iraq war has been so unpopular in Britain – distinct from any complaints about honesty, competence, casualties, legality and the other fair points – is to do with the Blair-Bush connection.

Max Weber said in 1918:

“A nation forgives if its interests have been damaged, but no nation forgives if its honour has been offended, especially by a bigoted self-righteousness.”

So, we can accept failure but not humiliation. He was talking about a nation defeated in war being humiliated by its conquerors, but I believe this maxim applies to our situation from late 2003: a nation technically victorious in war, feeling humiliated by its leader and his ally. (Does “bigoted self-righteousness” ring any Texan bells?)

Voters can and do forgive bad judgements, particularly in foreign policy, and particularly when the economy is strong. There may not be forgiveness of deceit and ignoble motives, but after a period of protest there is often a grudging acceptance that this has always been part of politics; people ‘move on’ and focus on other issues.

The key to much of the enduring fury about Iraq is not just that people believe our leader made a mistake and told lies, but that they think he willingly chained himself, and his country, to someone else’s mistake and someone else’s lies – and a buffoonish cowboy, whose manner gets so under our skin, at that. Blair was seen to rob us of our independence and a lot of people cannot forgive him the humiliation.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Interesting point.