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Monday, November 28, 2005

Whilst I complained that many people in this country were going slack in regards to the expansion of EU (and less recently), that was more of an aside, I had little idea just how fast and far the EU was actually going. In the Speccie's cover story Anthony Brown recounts some of the major development from only the past few months. It is pretty dizzying reading. Whilst one could try to find solace in Brown's remark that

Like a disabled person on crutches who defies his disability by climbing a mountain, or the cancer victim who runs marathons, the threat of paralysis seems to have spurred the EU into a frenzy of activity.

I fear the EU is simply doing its usual thing in flying under the radar. Again it's a shame that the main press doesn't really pick these stories up properly. In turn of course that leads to angry-old-man-syndrome when it suddenly becomes apparent that the EU has instigated some mind bogglingly stupid and rightfully unpopular move like forcing out the Red Ensign. Well, probably too late if true. By the time you see the result of EU regulations or an expansion of EU institutional competences it's probably already too late to do anything about it - that's how it works. It's time the wider public got to understand this better. It's good of the Speccie to run these stories (and reminds me why we really need it), but that is just not enough.

Having spent the day in Canterbury I am impressively reminded why I stand by the Church of England, despite some of its growing troubles. When you look at the Cathedral but also some of the smaller Church buildings spread around you are not immediately struck by it. It's when you look closer, that what really conveys the quiet splendour of the Anglican faith are the little details and the air of historical matter-of-courseness that accompanies the Church and its works. It certainly grew on me again while I was there.

In Saturday's Times Matthew Parris has an interesting comment on Iraq, in which he says that whatever we may consciously argue, subconsciously we all agree on Iraq having failed. I am afraid I know what he means. When Iraq hawks talk and particularly blog amongst themselves it all seems less bad, but the moment you open a newspaper, switch on the telly or the radio you can't avoid this sinking feeling. I see no reason (yet?) to change my mind over invading and occupying Iraq, but the emotional commitment to the enterprise had been gone for a long time. In the lead up to the invasion there was a real feeling that things were changing for the better, and this was a just and necessary war that it was a pleasure to be an advocate for. I can't really say when that tipping point came. Looking back there are two points that stand out for me.
The first was Bush's "mission accomplished" show. At the moment when the war was going into its more difficult phase of reestablishing order in Iraq Bush was effectively saying there's nothing to do anymore, let's go home. That built up exactly the wrong kind fo expectation both in the military and the public. After you've created the impression that the job is as good as done and you then say, "yes, but I need to send an extra two hundred thousand troops in for at least a year" (a realistic war plan I would wager), people are going baulk at that. I think this is when I began feeling that our leaders were possibly going to mess things up.
The second was the David Kelly affair. Whether or not Andrew Gilligan was journalistically right or not to blow the wmd story up at a time when public support was already beginning to wane I will leave to others to debate; ultimately there’s nothing that can be done about freedom of the press, even if that freedom gets used badly. But again like Bush’s speech this was in the transformationary phase of the war. To run a proper nation building war effort would have required public backing. The Kelly affair set off the then sheer endless stream of officials past and present rolling out supposed exposes about wmd lies. This helped undermine public morale. Why the Government was so incompetent in meeting this bad pr remains a mystery to me, given how good they are normally at spinning.
But both those incidences I think we’re instrumental in pushing the emotional dimension of the Iraq war debate in the wrong direction. To be sure, there is plenty that went wrong policy and argument wise to be sure.
If you read the Economist's fine leader on Iraq this week you are struck by the level of disappointment that seeps through the comment. That is a feeling I sadly share. What makes it worse is that I know it's possibly too late to make a real shift in strategy. That would also be politically difficulty increasingly in Iraq itself now I guess. Otherwise I think this posting from more than two years ago describes what would needed to be done.
(As an aside, advocating the invasion of Iraq may have been a pleasure, but socially comfortable it wasn't; I guess people don't really like debating politics properly in a social environment; it's more about finding commonality with other, which intensifies ten-fold the displaesure on realising the other side diagrees with you.)

So what template would a Tory Government do to deal with such a situation? Not easy to tell. Back in June I had pointed out that the Conservatives needed to debate and develop clear thinking on foreign policy. Whilst Michael Howard's positions had already hinted in an interventionist, hawkish and sovereignist direction, it seems that outlook is gaining traction amongst the Tories. In this week's Speccie Peter Oborne reports on a London meeting of the Henry Jackson Society. Plenty of up and coming Tories in there. It certainly looks like this is where the Conservatives seem to be heading in terms of forging a new foreign policy consensus. This will definitely help the Conservatives win the next election. After all, one of my favourites themes I like to go on about is how you can’t fight properly in politics if you don’t have certainty on the national strategy, Britain’s place in the world and on how you would decide matters of war and peace. Even if there is a wide political range in the Henry Jackson Society itself, most are centre-right and I think it is no safe to say that therefore the Tory revival edges closer.
(see also Stephen Pollard)

After the doubtful occurances during Azerbaijan’s elections recently, time to turn to another South Caucasus state and an expression of public will, the constitutional amendment referendum in Armenia. The proposal would most importantly have moved powers away from the presidency towards parliament. After first hearing about it I thought this looks a lot more promising avenue for bringing genuine democracy into the post-Soviet sphere than trying to do so in single big steps such as revolutions or general elections. By gradually starting to move things from the bottom up, piece by piece, chances are far better that the democracy that emerges from that will hold. Sadly, it seems the referendum has followed the dubious routes that similar events have gone in the ex-USSR. Shame really. Hopefully it will work one day.

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