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Monday, August 14, 2006


Peace and Socialism

John Reid has declared that the War on Terror is at an end!

He said that it was a “dreadful misjudgement if they believe that the foreign policy of this country should be shaped in part or in whole under the threat of terrorist activity”.

Oh, hang on. He only meant that we will not stop acts of war and occupation in the Middle East as part of a response to threats of terror. This is despite the fact that the principal justification for the shape of our modern foreign policy is that it is, categorically, a response to terrorism. Foreign policy would not be what it is, we are asked to assume, if it were not for terrorism. We would not have soldiers in oil-rich states if it were not for the temporally prior acts of terrorism.

Please remember, and get this straight; our foreign policy is nothing more than a response to terrorism combined with a deepest concern to spread democratic freedom. Do not dare to suggest that our foreign policy is anything but a complete break with the past. Now, without any sort of change in the structure or institutions of our society, we have miraculously reached a point where foreign policy does not serve the material interests of national elites. Marvellous!

But, if our foreign policy is of this categorically new and noble design, part of the War on Terror rather than a struggle for power at home and abroad, then it is surely designed to reduce the incidence of terrorism. If we fight a War on Terror with methods that result only in a greater incidence of terrorism, then it will be a war without end. And no-one would want that. Not in a world in which our political elites, the Great Men that they are, have transcended the structural and institutional drivers that have constrained all corresponding elites prior to 1997. Would they?

Of course not. And to understand just how deep, despite the lack of any structural or institutional change in society, this break in historical continuity runs, we only have to quote John Reid once again.

“That is not the British way, it is antithetical to our very central values. We decide things in this country by democracy, not under the threat of terrorism.”

That is right. Writing a letter to the government asking for a change in our foreign policy is antithetical the British way*. Indeed, it is antidemocratic. Labour used to stand for Peace and Socialism. Now it proudly flies the banner ‘Shut Up and Die’.

*Incidentally, what on Earth is that? Is it a crude transatlantic reworking of that all-purpose patriotic rallying cry, ‘the American way’? How very British, eh?

Update: Roy Hattersley has a column in the Guardian addressing this subject. As his editors summarise, it argues “oppose British policy on its merits - not because it makes us a target”. Which is all well and good, until we understand that, as our foreign policy is being sold to us as being a means to make us safer, the merits of the policies cannot be disentangled from whether or not these policies make us a target. There are other ways of justifying our foreign policy, of course, but if we take democracy seriously then we must take the argument that is the basis of the consent of the polity to that policy to be of great importance.

Update Two: Kim Howells has exposed government policy as an imperialistic and authoritarian scam for which terrorism is nothing but a handy pretext. According to BBC News Online, he argues that, “"no government" formulates policy based on a perceived risk from terrorists.”

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