Magazine article The Spectator

The Conservatives Must Reject Neo-Conservatism

Magazine article The Spectator

The Conservatives Must Reject Neo-Conservatism

Article excerpt

John Major once said to me that foreign policy doesn't win elections. I replied that that was true, but it could lose them. That is the spectre haunting the Labour party today. The Prime Minister is derided around the world as George Bush's lapdog. His parliamentary colleagues have the albatross of Iraq around their necks. Tony Blair's aspiration for Britain to be at the heart of Europe has become a cruel farce.

Governments, of course, will fall only when two conditions have been met. The incumbents must be seen to have failed; but there must also be an alternative government with a credible and attractive vision for Britain's place in the world.

No one knows for certain what the world will look like in detail in three years' time, but the challenges that we will face are already reasonably clear and it is necessary for the Conservative party to spell out its strategy and analysis. Put simply, we will need a foreign policy that is Conservative and not neo-Conservative, principled but not ideological, and rooted in the real world of cultural diversity and competing interests.

There are two issues that the Conservative party needs to tackle now. They are the war against terror, including our relations with the United States; and Britain's future in Europe.

Most Conservatives have no difficulty sharing Blair's fundamental analysis on the significance of 9/11 and the need for a global response. Al-Qa'eda is an evil organisation that threatens us. Iran and Syria are sponsors of terrorism. A nuclear Iran would be a danger to the Middle East. I salute the clarity of Blair's analysis and warnings on these matters.

But the Conservative party needs to part company with Blair in three crucial respects. First, there must be a clear recognition that the invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake that has helped the terrorists. It has also made Iran the power in the Gulf.

While the government may be in denial, there is no need for the Conservative party to be. That does not mean, however, that British troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. It is essential that they remain there as long as their presence might help the Iraqis.

Secondly, Conservatives should not accept Blair's simplistic belief that all Muslim terrorism is part of a single plot. Conservatives are rightly suspicious of a Manichaean division of the world into good and bad; terrorist and freedom-loving. The war in Chechnya, for example, is between Chechen nationalists and Russian nationalists, not between terror and freedom. The same applies to Kashmir.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is also much more than a battle against Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism. As Yitzhak Rabin, a former general, realised, it will require a political not a military solution. Ignoring the complexity of terrorism does little to resolve the problems.

Thirdly, Conservatives should reject a philosophy of pre-emptive wars (or, as Blair prefers to call it, liberal interventionism) fought by 'coalitions of the willing'. The alternative is not, as he implies, a policy of appeasement, nor one of indifference. War should only be initiated either if we are attacked, as with the Falklands, or if we have a treaty obligation, as with Poland in 1939. The only other circumstance where war should be acceptable for Conservatives is when there is a serious threat to the international community and no other remedy is available. This would normally require the approval of the UN Security Council, but we cannot always allow the single veto of China or Russia to prevent action supported by the rest. …

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