Wednesday, August 02, 2006

51st State

Simon Heffer in today's Telegraph has a splendid rant about the woebegone figure of Margaret Beckett- our hapless Foreign Secretary. It is rare that I agree with him, but his call for her immediate resignation is something I can totally agree with. She is, quite simply, not up to the job.

Her utter lack of interest in International Affairs is obvious, but then as "Yo Blair" is his own foreign minister, there is not too much for her to do. Interesting to see the British Prime Minister on such a transparent job hunt in the United States- interesting and frankly embarrassing.

Nevertheless the Post-Blair era will be upon us soon- and the question that will loom larger in that era is "Can the UK ever have a foreign policy that is independent of the United States?".

After all, our so-called "independent nuclear deterrent" is dependent on servicing carried out in Savannah, Georgia. Our signals intelligence system, GCHQ, is essentially transparent to the US agencies, especially the NSA. The United States maintains large bases across the UK- notably at Mildenhall and Lakenheath in Suffolk that are in fact, though not in law, sovereign base areas. Our Military capability is dependent on close cooperation with the US military. British arms and aerospace companies are reliant on contracts with the US military. All of this is in addition to the large scale British investments in the United States (BP, buying Amoco, for example).

Of course this is all very well, since most of us are quite happy about our close alliance with the USA and our membership of NATO. However, as the "Yo Blair" stuff has shown- we are patronised and ignored both by the US and everyone else. The fact is that in such areas as Israel, the US and Britain have quite different approaches. Many regard the position of the Israeli government in the current crisis as irrational. However, as the result of our essentially craven position vis a vis the US, we have not made any official public criticism. As Blair makes the arrangements to leave office and spend more time with his lecture notes, his legacy of foreign policy positions that are always totally aligned with Washington should now be questioned and, if necessary, the assumptions that have been underlying them should be challenged.

It would be nice to have an independent British foreign policy again- and better still to have a competent Foreign Secretary.


RK said...

It is a reasonable question to ask – can we have an independent foreign policy – but I think you misjudge why Blair has taken the stances he has. His position on Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan were not driven by being craven. Quite the contrary he has displayed courage because he is fully aware of the opposition at home, even within his party and cabinet.

It is well known that Bush didn’t press Blair to send soldiers to Iraq, knowing the domestic political cost. Blair chose to commit out of a sense of principal. His position on the current Hezbollah – Israel conflict is also a principled one. He believes that the rise of Islamist fascism should be countered and that capitulation and appeasement will not work. He believes that the goals of groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Lashkar e Tayyba, Jaish e Mohammed, Algerian Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat, Jemaah Islamiah etc are irreconcilable with our fundamental principals of liberty, equality and democracy. It’s one I agree with and why I argued on another post that the strident criticism of Israel by ‘doves’ like Sir Ming and Clare Short fail to take account of what the Israelis are fighting for and against. You can argue that Israel should have been more careful or dropped leaflets earlier but the basic fact is they try to limit civilian life but Hezbollah and their peers openly admit their genocidal ambitions.

You are free to disagree with the principals behind Blair’s foreign policy decisions but it is simply wrong to put it down to craven support for the USA. You can argue that Blair’s actions put us on the front line against Islamist facism and put us at greater risk of terrorism. That may well be true but to argue that that is a reason why we should have a foreign policy that seeks to appease the Islamists would be truly craven.

As a footnote I'd say it’s a bit of a misleading overstatement to claim that GCHQ is “transparent to the US agencies, especially the NSA.” There is a lot of joint working and the UK benefits enourmously from this but that does not make GCHQ transparent.

RK said...

For an insight into Blair's thinking on all this read this recent speech.

It's a bit long but you can clearly see he believes himself to be leading a principled foreign policy.