Monday, February 18, 2008

Conservatism, realism and the anti-war movement

I have managed to irk Dave Semple, a young veteran of the Stop the War movement, enough with my post last week on conservatism in the anti-war movement to get a fairly detailed response on his blog, albeit one which describes me (I think) as a "pro-war commissar" and my writing as "piffle". I have written a response in his comments box (part 1, part 2, postscript), as he invited a reply (I'm sure I could have done a better job on Saturday, when I first read his post, but I ran out of time and don't have the verve today). [Since then, David has written a series of extremely considered and intelligent replies to my response, and I have responded again.]

There has been a fair amount of blog reaction to the the David Miliband speech I referred to, a speech advocating a "citizen surge" and a more cosmopolitan, less realist, foreign policy. Bob Piper is right to identify the double standards involved in trumpeting a "democratic imperative" in Iraq while realpolitik constrains similarly muscular action on China and Pakistan. But it is wrong to dismiss the democratic imperative itself, and use it as a standard by which we judge our rulers' actions and inactions'. Piper's cynical take inevitably shades into a Little England isolationism: "David Miliband could then gather his forces at Dover and prepare to invade unless nation states agree to consult their people before sovereignty is transferred to Brussels or their currency to Bonn." It is worth noting that this kind of Little Englandism is another of the politics uniting the Bennite trad left, the likes of Andrew Murray and the Daily Telegraph readers who Murray saw marching on February 15 2003.

Meanwhile, Freemania provides an excellent defence of Miliband against his detractors, a motley crue of anti-democrats who include Living Marxism's Brendan O'Neill as well as the loathsome Simon Jenkins. See also Cassilis and Robin Simcox for more.

Freeman ends up with this: "David Cameron, who idiotically opines that “you cannot drop a fully formed democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet,” could learn a lot here. But I’m not sure he’d want to." Cameron's isolationism (he calls it "liberal conservatism" as opposed to Blair's "liberal interventionism") is conservative realism by another name, neatly illustrating the perverse alliance of anti-democratic forces that link the trad left to the Conservative right.

William Sjostrom of Atlantic Blog pierces the fatuousness of Simon Jenkins' Cameronite position here. The post deals with another Jenkins article, where he attacks Brown et al for not taking democracy to Beijing, even though he attacks them for trying to take it to the Middle East. Elsewhere Sjostrom takes on my other hate-figure, Jonathan Steele: "We should all be grateful Steele is not designing airplanes, preferring instead to write apologetics for murderers." (While I'm here, I'd also like to recommend some other posts on Altantic Blog: on the whiteness of Israel, on Bush in Africa, and on Saddam's innocence.)

The realism that Miliband was attacking has a lot of influence today. For example, Walt and Mearsheimer's Israel Lobby "analysis" is based in a realist understanding of international affairs. Realists like Walt & Mearsheimer and internal relations experts close to them like
Zbigniew Brzezinski exert a conservative influence too on the Democratic Party. Barack Obama, despite his positioning against the White House elite associated with Hillary Clinton, packs his staff with establishment wonks like Brzezinski, a "reality-based" community who want to re-create the reality of the pre-Reagan phase of the Cold War. (More hopefully, Obama is also advised by Samantha Power, whose fantastic "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide is a powerful resource for cosmopolitanism and against realism. Power, incidentally, has been cruelly and inaccurately described as an adherent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis by right-wing anti-Obama-ites like Paul Mirengoff and Noah Pollock.)

One of the things I say in my comment at David Semple's site is this: Realism is probably the least important of the three things I looked at in the article [I meant post!]; maybe I’m overstating my case in dwelling on it. Little Englandism, anti-Americanism, conspiracy theory, faith in the sanctity of the nation-state (or, at least, the Palestinian nation-state), support for right-wing dictatorships because they are putatively “anti-imperialist”, casual alliances with deeply reactionary theocrats on the principle of my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend: these are all far more pernicious, and far more common. When the left accomodates itself to these forces, either it is abandoning the ethical values that made the left what it once was, or it is time to leave the left. The hyperlinks on this paragraph are to images which illustrate that these were strongly present on 15 February 2003.

Finally, I have been very much enjoying the spectacle of Tower Hamlets Respect councillor Ahmed Hussain joining the Tory party (see Splintered Sunrise, Dave Osler, I Intend to Escape, Bob Piper, Chris Paul, Quaequam). I think, among other things, that this strengthens my case about the essential conservatism of at least one major element in the Stop the War coalition...

1 comment:

The Contentious Centrist said...

Bob: I hope when you get back you'll take a moment to consider this:

http://contentious-centrist.blogspot.com/2008/02/samantha-power-obama-and-that-word.html