Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Blair's Poodle

I wrote this last year, but didn’t post it, mainly because I felt there was too much Kamm-watching on here. I still think there is, but since then he has yet again repeated the point it deals with, and amazingly there are people out there who apparently want to read more about The Times’s foremost foreign policy poseur, so perhaps it’s worth posting.

It concerns Blair’s April 1999 speech to the Chicago Economic Club. Kamm likes mentioning this. It means he can hymn Blair’s foreign policy as a liberal interventionist departure from the realist consensus, and that means he can talk of “conservative pessimism” or “amoral quietism”. These favourite terms refer to the dark days of the non-interventionist Major government, before Blair’s progressive optimism and moral activism transformed Iraq into a killing ground for hundreds of thousands of its civilians. Via these means, Blair’s entanglement with a reactionary fundamentalist’s invasion is painted as left-wing moral action, dictated by conscience. It must be left-wing because – we’re supposed to believe – John Major wouldn’t have done it.

Unfortunately there are some who still cleave to the preposterous idea that Blair simply rolled over; possibly they were misled by, for instance, Blair’s chief of staff instructing his Washington ambassador to “get up the arse of the White House and stay there”. In this case Kamm has an ace to play. Tony Blair couldn’t possibly have been bounced into supporting the Iraq War because he was already wedded to his longstanding Chicago doctrine, “a distinctive approach to foreign policy that derives from the PM's own philosophy and ideals”.

In one of his recent sabbatical-busting posts, Kamm made the point once more:

“I referred here to Blair's 1999 Chicago speech, which explicitly referred to the urgency of countering Saddam, at a time when George W. Bush was a Governor of Texas of isolationist views. Blair is no poodle of the US administration.”

Quite why he finds this argument so convincing is not clear. It is true that Blair referred to Saddam Hussein in that speech, but that does not mean he was advocating an invasion. The Iraq reference was confined to these sentences:

“Many of our problems have been caused by two dangerous and ruthless men - Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. Both have been prepared to wage vicious campaigns against sections of their own community. As a result of these destructive policies both have brought calamity on their own peoples. Instead of enjoying its oil wealth Iraq has been reduced to poverty, with political life stultified through fear.”

Given that this speech was delivered four months after Operation Desert Fox, where Blair joined Clinton in bombing Iraq, it is plainly a retrospective justification for that action. There is no mention of further military action, let alone of invading Iraq. To take the above comments as proving Blair’s independent intent to invade is in itself a bizarre extrapolation.

Even weirder is Kamm’s repeated reference to Blair delivering his speech when, in one formulation, “George W. Bush was a Governor of Texas of isolationist views”. Nobody ever suggested Blair had some kind of fawning personal relationship with Bush before 2000; back then Blair was too busy obeying William J. Clinton, a President of the United States of interventionist views. Any poodling would self-evidently be towards the office, not the man. To think otherwise would be, at the least, to “misunderstand both British foreign policy and the transatlantic relationship.” (It might be worth remembering, in all this, that this quotation comes from a piece pompously titled “The PM and Atlanticism”. “Transatlantic” is one of Kamm’s special words, apparently used to connote ocean-straddling political nous.)

But we need not confine ourselves to a single speech when examining claims of autonomous warmongering. Well after he had espoused his liberal interventionist “philosophy and ideals”, Blair told Tam Dalyell in a written Commons answer that “[w]e believe that the sanctions regime has effectively contained Saddam Hussein in the last 10 years. During this time he has not attacked his neighbours, nor used chemical weapons against his own people.” He said this in November 2000, so it is hard to see how anything before this point can be used to prove his desire to end sanctions and invade. Whatever “urgency” Kamm detected in 1999 had evidently gone by 2000, only to mysteriously reemerge once Bush was in power and pushing for new military action. Yet according to Kamm, it was Blair’s high-minded principle that drove him to invade.

This is just one example, but it illustrates the desperation of Kamm’s argument. He wants to say that New Labour radically differs from the Conservatives, and that Tony Blair is an independent moral agent, driven forward by his enlightened beliefs. That this is the best he can produce surely shows that Kamm is incompetent or wrong or both in pressing this view. As things stand I’d bet on the last.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sabbatical Perils

As people might have noticed, there hasn't been anything new on here for some time. Let me take this opportunity then, to retrospectively declare that period an almost Kamm-style sabbatical. Almost, because unlike the great man's it actually was period of leave. I do this in the full knowledge that
[t]here's always a slight danger in taking a short break from polemic, lest it be interpreted as a desire to evade discussion rather than defer it.
Thoughtful words from a man who never evades discussion.

I do plan to return to posting soon. If anyone has emailed me over the past months I've quite possibly lost your email, since Hotmail disabled and emptied the account. Please send it again if you can.