Foreign Policy and Conspiracy

By Ramsay, Allan | Contemporary Review, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Foreign Policy and Conspiracy

Ramsay, Allan, Contemporary Review

IN the early melodramas about international conspiracy, when the Blue Train appeared to exist for no other purpose than carrying anarchists and women with a past from one end of Europe to another, the villains always seemed to have Middle European names. They were sinister and disturbing figures but at the same time a little ridiculous; secretive, sombrely dressed, and unwashed. They had peculiar mannerisms and could be identified immediately. Nevertheless they gave the police of many countries a run for their money and succeeded in alarming people, sometimes in blowing them up, before being captured and the ring in which they operated broken.

They were all, of course, ideologues. This added to their absurdity in the eyes of ordinary people concerned about the bread and butter issues that occupy most of mankind. They believed passionately in some idea, some blueprint, that would alter the course of history irrevocably and for the better. This required a cataclysm since nothing else would shift the stratified society to which they so strongly objected. They could be said to have had a vision, however purblind and confused. It goes without saying that when they achieved what they set out to do, it would be them and not someone else who would be found sitting on top of the ruins. They, and no-one else, would be responsible for re-arranging the world to the prescribed pattern. They would give the orders and others would fall gratefully into line. No-one would bite the hand which had so generously and altruistically liberated them from the shackles of a tyrannical past.

Despite their sinister influence and disturbing creed, these melodramatic characters are remembered today chiefly for their incompetence. Society was relieved from the consequences of their folly because they blew themselves up more often than other people, or because their devotion to some utopian ideal, worked out in interminable discussions in attic rooms and cafes, led them into a blind alley.

It would be a mistake to think that once there, that would be the end of it, that they would be rounded up and removed out of harm's way by a vigilant international police force. The species is persistent, as persistent as ideas themselves or, more accurately, as persistent as a man's habit of turning ideas on their heads or distorting them to suit his purposes. Even the Middle European names have a habit of cropping up. We find them today in the USA where so many of their forefathers found refuge, and especially in Washington, the Mecca for those who want to be at the centre of affairs which is what all those melodramatic villains aspired to, men with names like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, important men with an ideology and an answer to the manifold problems of mankind. Unlike their predecessors they have resources at their disposal of which the latter could only have dreamed in some intoxicated haze, the resources of the most powerful state in the world, no less, militarily so far above the rest that its supremacy need never be seriously challenged. They work, moreover, within the apparatus of legality and public sanction, not from outside them. They enjoy the support of an elected President who shares their view of the world as a place to be put into order. Some have described him as one who sees himself as a man twice born, motivated by an intensely personal evangelical faith. It does not matter if they do not share it; the melodramatic villains were always turning the credulity of others to their own advantage; it was a useful tool, no more, no less. They have subservient allies, anxious to do their bidding, and, most marvellously of all, they have an identifiable enemy, terrorism, which inspires fear and loathing throughout the world and serves as a rallying call for doubters. It is almost too good to be true, at least that is how it would surely seem to the old-style villain with his spluttering fuse. Being a purist he would Probably deny that they had anything in common, that to be a cause must always be a lost cause otherwise it becomes an orthodoxy and dies; that it is better to dream of power than to embrace it, much as Robert Louis Stevenson found it better to travel than to arrive. …

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