Magazine article The Spectator

The Whole Truth, Please

Magazine article The Spectator

The Whole Truth, Please

Article excerpt

The Prime Minister's speech on foreign policy at the Mansion House this week was a classic instance of reassurance rhetoric: his intention to soothe Atlanticists on both sides of the ocean, worried by the studied distance Mr Brown adopted at Camp David in July and the mixed signals sent by his ministerial team. Tribute was paid to 'the personal leadership of President Bush' in the search for peace in the Middle East and the American alliance was reaffirmed as 'our most important bilateral relationship'. Even Tony Blair was rehabilitated for the occasion, with a tribute to his 'painstaking work' in the Middle East.

There were more than just warm words for Mr Blair, though. The whole speech could be read as a measured defence and continuation of Blairite foreign policy and the belief that Britain's security ultimately depends on the spread of its values. Comparing this text to David Cameron's recent Berlin address rejecting liberal interventionism and pledging to put 'national security first', it is clear who -- in the field of foreign policy at least -- is the true heir to Blair.

The speech showed Mr Brown to be like his old friend and rival in another way, too. As Mr Blair so often did, Mr Brown left both sides with the impression that he agreed with them.

The multilateralists were told that 'the underlying issue for our country -- indeed for every country -- is how together in this new interdependent world we renew and strengthen our international rules, institutions and networks.' Those who worry that pledges to reform the United Nations, worthy though they are, hardly match the urgency of the era were reassured that the Prime Minister understood that while 'resolutions matter, results matter even more'.

Brownite foreign policy -- such as it is -- has been exemplified by this kind of rhetorical balancing act and the procrastination it entails.

The cost of this hesitation, though, is that other countries are stealing a march on Britain.

Nicolas Sarkozy appears determined to replace Mr Blair as America's Ally Number One -- and is going the right way about it.

Nowhere was Mr Brown's equivocation more apparent than on Iran. Tehran was told that it risked 'confrontation with the international community' if it did not abandon both its nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorism. Well, yes. But Mr Brown immediately hedged even this statement of the obvious by saying that the consequences of this confrontation would be 'a tightening of sanctions'. This is rather like saying that the consequence of pregnancy will be an emerging bump: true, but hardly the whole story.

The legacy of Iraq is that no senior British politician dares speak the whole truth about Iran. The choice is stark, as the French have pointed out: prevent Iran from going nuclear by peaceful means, or prepare for war. There is no way, and understandably so, that Israel will allow a state that is explicitly pledged to its destruction and is the quartermaster of Hamas and Hezbollah to develop nuclear weapons. It is equally hard to imagine President Bush -- or any of his likely successors -- allowing such a flagrant state sponsor of terror to establish a nuclear imperium in the Middle East.

Tougher sanctions are overdue and should be tried. Iran is one of the few countries where British diplomacy still carries serious weight and that advantage must be prosecuted to the fullest possible extent. …

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