Magazine article The Spectator

If This War Ends in Chaos, the Hawks Must Be Prepared to Admit That the Doves Were Right

Magazine article The Spectator

If This War Ends in Chaos, the Hawks Must Be Prepared to Admit That the Doves Were Right

Article excerpt


This is a declaration of war. The enemy are the British hawks. We doves should identify them in their caves, hunt them down and show no mercy in victory. We know that they, if they win, will show no mercy to us. You may say that this is a dummy war, played from the armchairs of journalists and MPs; that it is childish to think about professional reputation when lives abroad are at stake. But, believe me, those concerned do think about these things; such thoughts do influence what they write and how they argue; and it's better to be honest about that conflict, for it influences the real one.

Who are these shadowy hawks? I am not taking on the entire British Establishment. Westminster, Whitehall and Fleet Street are stuffed with senior individuals who, whatever their private doubts or hesitations about this Afghan business, have felt conscious of a polite requirement to give a government at war a fair wind. I can well see how those who run any great newspaper or magazine will feel under some patriotic duty not positively to undermine the allied war effort. My own newspaper, the Times, has struck the judiciously supportive balance that is appropriate to that newspaper, while giving huge amounts of space to its columnists, foreign editor and correspondents to comment and report as they see fit.

Nor would I have in my sights the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the beleaguered Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon. They are doing their duty with no excess of zeal.

But others, led by the Prime Minister and, for the principal opposition, the Conservative leader, have gone much further. Britain was under no pressure at all to stick her neck out as far as she has in this matter. It was necessary and right to express sorrow and sympathy after the New York attack, and it would have been hard thereafter to offer less than quiet co-operation with the Americans; but there was no requirement to shout, no requirement to peddle our armed forces like some kind of mercenaries to the American cause, and no requirement to up the ante at a time when a respected voice such as Britain's could have struck a needed note of cautious detachment.

Tony Blair seems to have been shouting, now, for the better part of three weeks. He was under absolutely no democratic pressure to do so. He has no imminent election to win, and is way ahead in the polls. He knows that the British public would have tolerated any one of a range of stances on this war, from the super-belligerent in which we find ourselves to the sympathetically neutral. He has, from the start, enjoyed a luxury not available to President George W. Bush. Mr Blair has freely chosen the crusader's armour, and from this flows an enhanced personal moral responsibility. If history judges Washington's war against terror to have been brave, wise, successful and right, Tony Blair will deserve unusual credit for the part he is playing. If history judges otherwise, he must accept unusual blame.

His stridency has found its echoes in the press. Where those concerned are mostly the employees of others it would be invidious to name names, and it is often difficult to know who, within a newspaper or on a screen, is the real author of an approach, the real giver of tone; but they will know who they are, and we can guess who they are: the people who went the extra mile, and urged their troops the extra mile, towards this battie-front, and who did so not because they had to but as a matter of personal judgment and moral choice. …

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