From ‘special friend’ to poor friend

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2011 at 7:54 am

Britain is in danger of looking a little lost and confused. The reeling back with distaste over the US’s triumphalism at the demise of Bin Laden reveals Britain’s lack of clear worldview. At the end of WWII US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said ‘Britain has lost an Empire but not found a role in the world’. Not a lot has changed.

Our poor rhetoric has spun ever since. Churchill said he’d always look across the Atlantic than to Europe. Thatcher said ‘Nothing good comes from Europe’. It was Europe who stood by and said little when the Serbs reaped a whirlwind and it was only American decision making that stopped their bloody onslaught. Blair acquiesced effusively to the neo-cons over Iraq. It was the CIA who radicalised the Mujahideen unchallenged. Today we can’t differentiate the good from the bad over Bin Laden. We continue to be in a paroxysm of poorly expressed critique towards our allies. Why? Because we don’t know our own position from which to build a carefully articulated independent worldview.

In other words Britain is the master of ambivalence. Worst still it is being a poor friend to the US. By giving such a limited challenge to the US over Iraq Britain let down its ally badly. Just when a restraining buddy was needed we back slapped our way into disaster. A monumental tragedy for the world. That was the time to say ‘stop, think and wait’. 14 of the 17 9/11 terrorists were Saudis but Iraq became the subject of a ‘revenge strategy’. What Elliot Leyton terms a ‘violent act to assuage a violent wrong’, America was giving in to its own instincts; and doing exactly what Bin Laden wanted, reacting with hatred. By questioning badly the commando raid on an enemy leader’s compound we are showing poor friendship. This form of operation is the approach to terrorism that we should have adopted all along. To attack the perpetrators and not the communities that have to suffer their bullying presence. Have we learnt nothing from Northern Ireland?

If you board an aircraft in the early hours having signed your last will and testament with the very real prospect of not returning, with the likelihood that your enemy has a contingency for just such an operation then it is fanciful at best to presume you can knock on the front door and ask to be let in for tea and cake. You enter of a world of confusion and terror and if the Americans have learnt anything they will have judged that success in these circumstances comes down to clinical skills. In the past America will have put a cruise missile into the compound and bred a new generation of militants; instead they saved the lives of innocents by risking the lives of their own men and women.  That’s the sort courage I applaud. The disaster of the Iranian hostage rescue, Operation Eagle Claw, and Somalia, haunted America’s military for years. They have the opportunity now to win friends and influence the world. The young Americans on the streets whooping it up can be understood but that shouldn’t overshadow that America might be turning to ‘smart tactics’ and should be encouraged along this road.

Unlike France who have an ideological anti-American position Britain has the opportunity to say ‘no’ to America when it’s in a rage and looking for someone to hit and ‘yes’ when they adopt smart tactics (and being a little realistic in accepting that a qualified success is better than an unmitigated disaster). Our role should be as a strong but balanced critic of all its allies, speaking its mind and showing we have a confident independent foreign policy position.

The causal factors for terrorism are alienated people groups. People who feel hopeless and marginalised. The West’s Imperialism has left its legacy of poorly structured nations whose peoples’ voices are unheard. These are the conditions that ferment Bin Ladens and until we can engage with the communities across the world from whom we extracted ‘globalised value’ we will continue to sow the seeds of our demise. America’s hegemony alienates, as did ours, and it’s a long careful path to restoring their standing in the world. Not by water-boarding or indiscriminate bombing but by courageous restraint.

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