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Sunday, February 01, 2004

THE AMERICANS JUST DON'T GET IT . . . BUT WHO DOES? In the current Speccie there has just appeared an essay by Robin Harris, former adviser to Maggie and now at Politeia, that could easily have been penned by me, which is why I recommend, nay, insist, you read it. (Harris actually wrote a lengthier piece for Policy Review back in June 2002, in which he tackles Britain's Atlantic/EUro-American policy choices in greater detail.) He actually nails one of the key points right from the beginning:

Yet a powerful case can be made that this Prime Minister has done great harm to the Anglo-American relationship. He has undermined this country's trust in America's motives. He has made the British public reluctant to contemplate any further action to bring rogue states to heel. He has planted the bacillus of Euro-pacifism in the only major European state hitherto immune from it.

This matters in many ways other than the obvious, but particularly on Europe, where anti-Americanism is the best bet for those who want to tie Britain into the EU unconditionally, come what may. It also puts a negative light on the traditions of limited government, which, lathough British in origin, are today thought of as being "American".
Harris concludes:

Tony Blair's travails will convince many Americans that he is the victim of anti-Americanism. Every opinion poll suggests that he is not. Britain suffers from none of that embittered envy of American great-power status that affects much of continental Europe.
The main responsibility for rectifying matters lies with the Conservative opposition. Michael Howard's forensic skills in the debates over Hutton will need to be complemented by a broader statesmanship. He will have to explain to the British public why the Anglo-American relationship is a keystone of national interest, and at the same time that national interest alone must determine the priorities of British foreign policy. It will be equally necessary, and still more difficult, to explain to America, beginning with conservative America, that Tony Blair is not and never was John Bull.

That's quite a task, I'll understate. However it is an absolutely necessary task, as our national interest lies in a position that is neither a bolt-on to America nor a bolt-on for the EU, but instead chooses its positions somewhere in between.
Of course, this implies that you agree that the UK should have a strategy of international engagement in the first place, but that's a question I'm going to ignore right now. In any case I've already decided in favour of engagement, as has the vast majority of the British establishment and presumably public opinion, so the really more important question is the how of engagement.
Of course, given the comparative failure of the Government it is up to the Conservatives to start thinking about their answer to Britain's central question of our place in the world, so we have some choice and hopefully a good choice come election time next year. To be clear about it, this is not just about boring diplomatic treaty wringing, this also has huge implications in domestic issues, on national identity even.
What I would briefly recommend to the Tories would be to explain why they supported action against Iraq independently of the question of wmds, to make it clear, that unlike Blair, under a Conservative Government the relationship to both the US and the EU would not be unconditional, and thus rule out the adoption of the euro, and pledge to hold a full inquiry into how the intelligence on Iraq's wmds was so wrong (if it is, as seems the case now).
This last point cannot be emphasised enough because the real danger doesn't come from the risk we may topple some vile tyrant and then realise that one amongst many good reasons was wrong, the real risk lies in the possibility that our intelligence services may be missing a weapons programme somewhere else, something that could have truly catastrophic implications.
The real task the Tories have ahead of them however, is not in improving the relationship to the US, which we can take for granted, but instead of improving our position in Europe. With a dedicated Eurosceptic at the helm as Michael Howard that task will be very hard indeed. My position is that British EU-policy must be positive in its outlook and rhetoric, and emphasises more that we want a different kind of EU that will benefit all EUropeans, and not to sink into isolated rejectionism, that will be both useless as policy, and would rapidly be overturned by a Labour successor Government into its direct opposite.
That is the Conservatives' big job ahead of them; let's see how they fare.

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