The Anglosphere Goes to War
It's nice to be British at the moment. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been getting high marks from Americans for the loud and clear support support he has given to George W. Bush's war on terrorism. After his two powerful speeches about the war — at his own party's annual conference on October 3rd and in Parliament on the 4th — the London Sunday Telegraph did a telephone poll over here. They found that 81 per cent of Americans who had heard of Blair had a favorable opinion of him, while 41 per cent of the same group would vote for him if he ran for president. Now that hostilities are actually under way, with British planes and submarines as part of the attack force, and also, one presumes, British commandos on the ground in Afghanistan, I imagine this spirit of solidarity and mutual admiration will wax ever stronger. I myself have been basking in the reflected glow from these sentiments. Many readers have emailed me to say how much they appreciate Britain's standing by the U.S. in these times, and I thank them collectively (which I am afraid will have to do — I am hopelessly behind on email). Neighbors and acquaintances have chimed in with words of gratitude. It's nice. The burning of the White House in 1814 seems to have been quite forgotten.
Now, you know me — not the type to rain on anybody's parade, least of all when the parade's waving and cheering at me as it passes my house. I don't want to be a wet blanket on the war effort, either, which has my whole-hearted support, and which I believe must succeed if my children are to grow up in a civilized world. I would, though, just like to throw in a couple of words of caution about Blair, his party, and Britain in general.
I am a Conservative as well as a conservative, so Blair's party isn't mine. I know it well, though; all my relatives in England are Labour voters. I am the lone Tory — "the blue sheep of the family," as my sister says. Most of my English friends are Left, too; they are mainly intellectuals and small-time academics, with the ideological déformation professionelle that goes with that kind of work nowadays. Like the Democratic Party over here, Britain's Labour Party endured a long spell out of office, from which it was able to emerge only after giving itself a makeover. Following Tony Blair's ascension to the leadership of the Party in 1994, Labour changed itself from being a coalition of old-line "means of production" socialists, pacifists, labor unions (dominated now, in Britain as in the U.S., by those from the public sector), "lifestyle" activists and "green" intellectuals, to being a neoliberal "third way" party with sufficient general appeal to win elections. Where did the socialists, peaceniks, tax-eaters, feminists and tree-huggers go? You're not supposed to ask that. Suffice it to say that they all learned, from years in the wilderness, that fine words butter no parsnips, and that great advances for the "progressive" cause — not to mention lots of the kinds of jobs that come with a chauffered limousine — can be achieved by keeping your mouth shut in public while uniting behind a telegenic centrist who is attractive and unthreatening to the apolitical middle classes.
A lot of these people were choking on their tea and crumpets listening to Blair's speeches in support of the war. Those not actually pacifist are generally anti-military and anti-American. Furthermore, huge numbers of the Third-World immigrants who have been pouring into Britain this past forty years are Muslims — from Pakistan and Bangladesh, mainly — and the leftist middle classes who form the backbone of the Labour Party organization look down on them from the lofty heights of moral superiority with a blend of multi-culti paternalism and post-colonial guilt. (This is not to mention the fact that those immigrants provide a jobs program for large parts of Britain's urban lumpen-intelligentsia — Labour voters to a man, woman, and transgendered individual — in the way of Community Relations Liaison Officers, ESL teachers, welfare workers and so on.) Things are not quite as bad as in the Vietnam War, when Prime Minister Harold Wilson made all the right noises on behalf of Lyndon Johnson but dared not commit any troops for fear of an uprising by his Labour Party rank and file. Still, Blair can only take his party so far on this one, and we do not yet know how far that will be.
Then there is Tony Blair himself. I am going to come right out of the closet here and declare that I believe Blair to be a bag of wind, who is likely to deflate suddenly if pricked by adversity. The evidence for this is in Northern Ireland, where he sold the 1998 Good Friday agreement to the majority Unionist population on the clear understanding that terrorist militias would be obliged to give up their arsenals of weapons before being allowed to participate in normal politics. That understanding has been grossly, shamelessly and outrageously violated. Terrorists, including many who are guilty of the most unspeakable crimes, but released from long jail terms as part of the agreement, are now gathering their forces to resume the unholy war that agreement was supposed to end. Blair's only reaction has been to lean ever harder on the only people he has found amenable to pressure — law-abiding Unionists — while dangling ever more concessions and favors in front of those who have never given an inch — the hard-core terrorists. It is possible that Blair will prove more resolute in prosecuting action against the terror networks of the Middle East than he has against the psychopaths of Belfast and Dundalk. Still, the evidence of his Northern Ireland policy seems to me to be that he has always moved in whatever direction is most likely to reduce the possibility of terrorist attacks on mainland Britain, without much regard for the consequences in Ulster. If I am right about that, its relevance to the present situation is obvious, and not very encouraging. (Or, to put it another way, very encouraging indeed for any terrorists who have come to the same conclusion about Blair as I have.)
And finally there are the people of Britain, the generality of whom like America and feel a fondness for, and kinship with, Americans, but who increasingly see their future in Europe. In the first of those two speeches that so impressed you Yanks, Blair also declared his determination to take the U.K. into the single European currency "in this parliament," which is to say within the next four years — a decisive and irreversible turn towards political integration with Europe. He made happy noises about "a strong Britain, rock solid in our alliance with the USA, yet determined to play its full part in shaping Europe's destiny …," but everyone understands that this is an either/or.
So I am watching with pride and satisfaction as British troops, British ships and British planes engage the enemies of civilized life in co-ordination with our American cousins. It is early days yet, though. If, as President Bush has assured us, and as he really seems to intend, this is going to be a long and dogged struggle, then we can be sure that there are many more tests for us ahead. I have no doubt Americans will face up to those tests with the courage, patriotism and determination they have been showing since September 11th. I believe my countrymen will, too, under honest, resolute and principled leadership. Is Blair the man to provide that leadership? I honestly hope so, having no stake, emotional or otherwise, in any other outcome. I look at Blair, though, and I look at his party, and I even sometimes look at my countrymen, and … Well, I truly hope so.