Magazine article The Spectator

The Neocons Have Been Making Mischief for More Than 100 Years

Magazine article The Spectator

The Neocons Have Been Making Mischief for More Than 100 Years

Article excerpt

What books, if any, important politicians read, as well as being of itself interesting, could also influence how they rule. In the late 1940s, it became known that both the prime minister, Attlee, and the opposition leader, Churchill, had chosen the same holiday reading: Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

It might have confirmed both in the belief that in the Soviet Union the West was threatened by a form of barbarian invasion, and that we should be better organised at defending ourselves against it than were the Romans. President Bush, it is said, reads the Bible every day. Even more useful to him, for his day-to-day conduct of affairs, might be to read about the similarities between himself today and the rulers of previous great powers. He will find much that is familiar.

He will find, for example, the noisy counsellors who assure him that there is a threat, that if he is to deal with it, it is now or never, and that victory will be quick. To mention just one of many precedents, he will discover that he is the Lord Salisbury of our day.

Salisbury's Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz figure in the late 1890s, when Salisbury was a Conservative head of government, was Lord Milner, the governor of the British Cape Colony. Milner's Iraq was the Boer republic of the Transvaal. It was a threat to the British position in southern Africa, he said. How was it a threat? Milner could not point to weapons of mass destruction. So he pointed to its treatment of the British who had gone to live there: the uitlanders. They were, among other things, denied the vote, it seemed. But that was defensible from the Boer point of view. The Boers considered the Transvaal their country. They did not want the uitlanders to become the majority. In any case, the British living there did not seem particularly upset at their lack of a vote. They had not gone there for votes. Many had gone there for gold and diamonds.

Many of the Boers were disagreeable, as their treatment of the blacks in the mid-20th century was to show. But Milner did not emphasise the plight of the blacks. He emphasised the altogether more endurable plight of the uitlanders. In due course, the latter, by a petition to Queen Victoria and other plays on British domestic opinion, convinced enough British voters that their position had become intolerable.

Salisbury, like Mr Bush when elected in 2000, was a quietist. Like Mr Bush, he had not come to office with any great scheme of foreign policy in mind. Doubtless Mr Bush, on becoming President, thought it would be a happy turn of events if he could overthrow his father's enemy and attempted assassin, Saddam. But the idea had played no part in his election campaign. That campaign was almost entirely a matter of his reassuring what we call 'floating voters' - especially women - that he was not especially right-wing; that he was 'a compassionate conservative'. That was the explanation for there being so many blacks and Hispanics on the platform at the 2000 Republican convention, and hardly any in the hall. Mr Bush did not expect many blacks or Hispanics apart from anti-Castro Cubans around Miami - to vote for him. Nor did they. He hoped that their presence on the convention platform would reassure voters who might otherwise be hostile to him. …

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