The first version of this book appeared in 2004, as War and the National Interest: Arguments for a British Foreign Policy, and was focussed almost entirely on the debate over the Iraq War. Though published in a small print run, and in the days before the rise of the e-book, it achieved a modest notoriety. It was followed by a CD of readings from the book. I did prepare a second edition in 2005. By now, though, Chris Tame was dying from bone cancer, and I set every project aside that was not obviously urgent. He died in 2006, and my time was at once claimed by writing the first of a series of historical novels. In 2011, I finally released the book on Kindle. But this was the unrevised 2005 edition. Its formatting was defective. I put no effort into marketing it. I had even mislaid the audio files I made in 2004. Looking now at the work again, I feel that it deserves a second chance, though not in its first or second edition. I have continued to write, since 2004, about British foreign policy. I had written occasionally about it before we became involved in the War on Terror. I therefore republish in a new and expanded edition, under a new title that better reflects its wider focus.
Because the contents are grouped in more or less chronological order, and because they have at least three other Introductions, written at various times, I feel obliged to give a brief overview of what I have been trying to say.
The Failure of British Foreign Policy
My general principle is, and always has been, that the central purpose of British foreign policy is to preserve the independence of this country and the freedom of its people to live under their traditional laws and institutions. The growth and maintenance of the Empire involved a diversion from this principle, requiring a focus on parts of the world a long way from our own country, and corresponding alliances and wars that made no sense in terms of our own security. The two big wars of the twentieth century were a further and a greater diversion. Then there was the long period of Cold War that many saw as justification for a close alliance with the United States.
There are always grounds, when discussing history, for considering what else should have been done and what else might have happened. I cover this in some of the essays. Mostly, though, I accept the past as unavoidable, and look at what has been done since about 1990 and what ought now to be done.
The end of the Cold War was an opportunity for correcting the foreign policy mistakes we had made since 1940, and perhaps since 1914. We no longer had an empire to consider. If its threat may not have so been as great as we were told, the Soviet Union was no more. We were at peace with every power in the world of any importance. We were on terms of unusually deep friendship with our immediate neighbours. Now was out best opportunity in at least a century for leaving the rest of the world alone, and for concentrating, without disturbance, on the restoration of our traditional laws and institutions.
Instead, our rulers continued to deepen our involvement in the European Union, and to build a domestic police state. They also continued—without the slightest need for American support—to dance to every tune played in Washington. We found ourselves in a Balkan war. We went to war in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq, and in Libya. We came close to a war in Syria. We took part in notable breaches of faith and in atrocities against civilians. We live today under a government that is little more than a branch of the Pentagon, and that is itself a militarised despotism. We are hated in many part of the world where we have no business to interfere. Our ludicrous immigration and multicultural policies are making us unsafe in our own country, and have been made further excuse for the police state.
Thoughts on the European Union
I have never liked or trusted America. I was born into a family that had a long if lowly connection with the Navy and with Imperial affairs. As a child, I absorbed much scepticism about the nature of the alliance we made with America in the 1940s, and much bitterness about what the Americans did to us at Suez in 1956. But, until I wrote the first of the essays in this book, what I thought of America was a secondary concern. I was more worried about the threat from the European Union. I cannot say when the balance of my concern shifted. It was not all at once, and I was largely unaware of the shift until after it had happened. No later than 2010, however, I knew that I had changed my mind.
Today, I believe that the European Union as it exists is a nuisance. It a force for corporatism and the flattening out of diversity among its member states. But this is, in terms of all that we face, no more than a nuisance. And it is an expression of legitimate desire among the peoples of Europe for cooperation in the pursuit of shared interests. Britain, France and Germany, and their various satellites, are a family of nations. Beneath all the differences of language and religion, we have more in common with each other than with any of the present great powers. Britain, France and Germany are countries of roughly the same size and wealth. None is in a position to dominate the others. All our interests lie in friendship, and, without forgetting to honour the fallen, in setting aside past differences. The European Union as it exists ought to be denounced. Some other Union of Europe is to be embraced.
America, on the other hand, is an existential threat both to Britain and to the other European nations. Though a projection of Europe—and particularly of Britain—its size alone makes any alliance into a relationship of master and servant. It is, moreover, in the long term hold of a messianic ideology that makes its own people, and any country in its orbit, into the disposable means of achieving an impossible state of affairs in the world. So far as I can tell, there are two imperatives behind the European Union. One is a Franco-German dream of a single vacuum cleaner factory for the whole Continent, working to a thousand-page regulation on the size and shape of its bags. The other is notions of a false diversity and of spiritual re-engineering that may have had their birth in Weimar Germany, but that have only become hegemonic because of their mixture with American puritanism. One we can live with until better sense prevails. The other is destroying us. It may be that, in 1945, looking from one messianic superpower to the other, the Americans were the lesser of two evils. Now the greater of those evils has passed into history, we should look again—and I suggest we should then look firmly away.
This explains my recent wobbling on membership of the European Union. I will not rehearse the reasons in favour of detaching ourselves from Brussels. But, if the most likely alternative is a still closer relationship with Washington, how to vote in the present referendum on membership becomes a choice I and many others would once have thought strangely hard. The goal, of an independent nation state, is clear. The path to that goal may involve otherwise unlikely and, purely in themselves, undesirable compromises.
The essays collected in this book deal at length with the American threat, and, if at times haltingly, seek a balanced view of the European Union. They also touch on British foreign policy before 1940 as it was and at it perhaps ought to have been. There is an analysis of Tony Blair’s attack on our traditional laws and institutions, and praise of the British Empire, plus an overview of Enoch Powell. The overall theme remains, even so, the need to close down as many conversations as we can between the ruling classes in London and in Washington.
I turn to the peculiar Introduction that I include by Daniel Mulroney. I found this on the Internet in 2005, and asked and obtained permission to include it in future editions. It is a polite but searching critique, but also makes a good general introduction. Since I am always willing to concede that I may be wrong, and since the tone of the essays in this book often borders on the polemical, it pleases me to give some kind of balance.
Moreover, for the avoidance of doubt, I will say that my dislike of America does not include all Americans. Most of my friends are American. Most of the books I write under various names sell better in America than they do in England. It would be at least ungracious if I were to spit in the faces of my friends and customers. I will go further. I may not dislike many Americans at all. I have always believed that our declaration of war on Germany in 1939 was a mistake. This is partly because I do not accept that Germany was a threat to my country, and partly because declaring war on Germany inevitably placed us in the hands of the United States. I resent our smooth replacement as the world’s hegemonic power. At the same time, I do not at all blame the Americans for what they did after 1940.
One of the principles explained many times in this book is that a country ought to follow its reasonable interests. If this were a general principle of action, foreign affairs would be as predictable as movements of the Solar System, and there would be fewer occasions for war. Well, knocking Britain off its perch was arguably in American interests as I define them, and I can hardly complain if this is what happened. I can blame our own ruling class for not seeing what should have been plain—and what was plain to more sensible observers. I have said I was brought up with a grudge against the United States. I think I have outgrown this. If there were people to blame in 1940, they were in London, not in Washington. For all his many faults, President Roosevelt did not and could not force us to take his free loans, or to join with Mexico and Panama, seemingly forever, in his country’s harem of satellites. As for Suez, we should have asked permission before invading Egypt—or we should have been prepared to call Eisenhower’s bluff when he told us to stop. Our own government was at fault there for not understanding the nature of our relationship with America, or for not taking the steps necessary to alter that relationship.
The Americans I dislike are those who step outside any reasonable conception of their country’s interest, and who are and have been trying to reshape the world to their own questionable tastes. These are the people who, in the past, installed tyrannies where they could for the benefit of American corporations, or turned countries upside down in their crusade against recreational drugs. They are nowadays the people who sincerely believed that pulling down Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi would bring on a spontaneous adopting of the American Way. These are bad and dangerous people. They are bad for my country. They are bad for their country. They are bad for the world. They are the people I have in mind when I launch into one of my denunciations of America. If, here and there in this book, I give any other indication of my views, that must be taken as one of those rhetorical excesses that Mr Mulroney mentions in his Introduction.
Every book on contemporary affairs is a work in progress, and I have little doubt that I shall have more to say in the next few years, and more qualifications to make in subsequent Introductions. Will we, against all present expectations, vote to leave the European Union? Who will win the American Presidency? These questions will be answered before Christmas, and the answers will provide fresh matter for speculation and argument. But now is as good a time as any for summing up my thoughts on British foreign policy, and, with all its faults, balanced by a continuous attempt at honesty, I offer this book to the world.
Deal, April 2016
© 2016 – 2017, seangabb.
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