By Arab News
By Neil Berry
Like many previous British leaders, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron projects himself as a champion of the rule of law at home and abroad.
Yet the images that have flashed round the world of rioters rampaging across parts of London and other British cities suggest he can scarcely guarantee its rule on his own streets, let alone in foreign lands.
In the circumstances, it seems more than ever lunatic that, on top of the misbegotten British campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Cameron committed Britain to a further military intervention in Libya with the purported aim of enforcing international law. Now, amid the upsurge of domestic disorder, the intervention is at risk of slipping from public notice, despite mounting evidence that it is turning into yet another debacle.
The Conservative MP Rory Stewart who has worked in the Middle East and written acclaimed books about his experiences, counseled against anything more than a limited intervention designed to prevent Col. Qaddafi from carrying out his threat to massacre the people of Benghazi. The danger, said Stewart, was that “you dip your toe in the water and suddenly find you are up to your neck.”
Many must have felt that after Britain’s tribulations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Stewart’s warning was hardly necessary. Moreover, given that senior figures in Britain’s armed forces were voicing concern that their resources were being stretched to breaking-point, it seemed barely conceivable that Britain was about to get mired in another military quagmire.
YET just as Stewart feared, Britain has duly become embroiled in a messy and protracted conflict of imponderable outcome. Foreign Secretary William Hague may present Britain’s recognition of the anti-Qaddafi forces and the ejection of Qaddafi’s ambassador from London as part of the steady progress Britain is making toward the accomplishment of its objectives (which have plainly always included the toppling of the Libyan leader). In reality, however, Britain’s endorsement of the opposition fighters was an act of desperation, a propaganda gambit designed to distract attention from the embarrassing fact that what Hague calls progress is actually a hopeless impasse.
Meanwhile, Rory Stewart has been consigned to the margins of public debate on the Libyan deployment. When he does offer his opinion on the issue, he feels bound to emphasize that he is not speaking on behalf of his party. Considering his extensive knowledge of the Middle East and beyond, his service as a provincial governor in Iraq and experience in Afghanistan as the founder of a development organization, it might have been expected that David Cameron would pay close heed to his advice. Instead, he spurned it. Under Cameron, as under the previous Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown what the US radical commentator Justin Raimondo dubbed the “war party” has retained its unrelenting grip on British foreign policy.
The other day, Stewart appeared on the BBC radio discussion program Any Questions alongside one of the war party’s most voluble apologists, the British neo-conservative ideologue Douglas Murray. Like Stewart, Murray is an Anglo-Scot, with a drawling style of speech that recalls lordly Britons of former times. Unlike Stewart, though, he has not walked across Afghanistan or spent much time in Muslim countries or taken the trouble to familiarize himself with non-Western cultures. Rather, he seems like a throwback to the British imperial class at its most arrogant and ethnocentric. Far from being curious to learn about the Muslim world, he appears incapable of seeing it as anything other than a source of bloodthirsty fanatics who pose a grave threat to Western freedoms.
TREATING those who disagree with him as sorry simpletons, Murray professes diehard support for US foreign policy and the state of Israel while missing no opportunity to affirm his commitment to the free market. He believes it would be a terrible mistake for Britain not to persevere with the Libyan intervention; to withdraw would give the green light to the West’s enemies, convincing Islamists that it no longer has the stomach for the fight. The notion that, as Rory Stewart believes, more harm is inflicted on the West’s credibility by a botched mission pursued far beyond the modest aims originally sanctioned for it by the United Nations he seems unwilling or unable to grasp.
It is cause for amazement that Murray is still accorded a public platform after the disasters of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war and a ten-year deployment in Afghanistan that has borne nothing except bitter fruit. It seems especially absurd that he continues to parade himself as a hardheaded realist when all the indications are that he is a pathological fantasist with overblown delusions about his own significance and his country’s capacities. For it is not just a question of the legitimacy of Britain’s wars; it is also a question of whether it is makes any kind of sense for Britain to aspire to behave like the world power it has long ceased to be.
Murray is a mouthpiece of the intellectual hard right who believes it is imperative for Britain to remain on a war-footing, even if that means creating a society where public services are starved of cash, market forces rule and the resultant rampant social inequality inevitably engenders widespread anger, alienation and despair. The violence that has erupted on the streets of Britain is not directly attributable to the misallocation of national resources, the spending of disproportionately gigantic sums on defense procurement and war at the expense of schools, libraries and hospitals. Nevertheless, Britain’s obsessive warmongering has hugely contributed to distorting the British economy and to swelling the vast national debt by which the country is burdened. What is extraordinary is that politicians never make the slightest reference to the crippling cost of war when discussing the need for drastically pruning public expenditure in order to repair Britain’s finances. It is the great unmentionable.
Britain is paying a heavy price for the ascendancy of the regressive “thinking” of which Douglas Murray is so ardent an advocate.
— The author can be reached at [email protected]