http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,482-1044541,00.html The Right should oppose Bush's War on Terror Matthew Parris APPEASEMENT WORRIES ME: appeasement in the War on Terror. I am worried about political parties becoming associated with appeasement in the voters’ minds.
The appeasement I mean is not the cheap accusation with which our Prime Minister insults the Spanish electorate. I mean the appeasement of Washington. It is not too late for the British Tories, nor for the Right more widely across the Western world, to start distancing themselves from a doctrine that in Spain has just cost the most successful conservative party in Europe a general election.
I am on my way back from nine days in Iraq and will describe my experiences in T2. Vivid as are my memories of that unlucky country and its people, no opposition party in Europe can help them. It is the health of the Conservative Party, and of the Centre-Right across our Continent which concerns me here.
Only the French Gaullists seem to understand the danger. The Right outside America risks becoming permanently associated in the public mind with a foreign policy that may have only another six months to live — or which (should this President’s mandate be renewed in November) may attain the perpetual infamy of the Vietnam conflict. What might the long-term electoral consequences for conservative parties outside America be, if we fail to respond to our own supporters’ anxiety about the state of permanent war America seems determined to help al-Qaeda to foist on the next generation?
I am worried about the failure of the British, the Australian and the European Right — the Right almost everywhere but in France — to take on board the public’s resistance to America’s new foreign and military policy. People really do not like it.
Conservative politicians have not understood how stubbornly unsaleable is President Bush’s doctrine of regime change. Fear of Washington’s appetite for “pre-emptive intervention” in sovereign nations is being harvested by politicians on the Left because the Right is failing to cast its nets in these waters. We seem unable to respond to the public anger staring us in the face.
Why does the simplistic philosophy which underpins President Bush’s, Prime Minister Sharon’s and Tony Blair’s War on Terror go unchallenged by Tories whose sense of history should teach us that things are never that simple? Why are conservative parties across Europe failing to register the way an immature US-led foreign and defence doctrine is scaring their own natural supporters? There is no reason why America’s new kick-ass approach should worry only the Left. There are sound impulses of both reason and patriotism for resisting it, and opinion polls suggest that these are felt as much by voters on the Right as on the Left.
What has happened to good old Tory scepticism? Resistance to adolescent schemes for the perfecting of nations or of international relations is a time-honoured Conservative habit which resonates with millions of Conservative voters. Why ever should a Tory, with all he should know about the limits of government, think you can build a democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia or anywhere else? This mistake is typical not of Conservatives but of the Left — borne of the notion that a society is like a machine: pour fuel into this nozzle, pull that lever, and away she goes.
What has happened to the Right’s respect for national sovereignty — others’ as well as our own? It should occur more naturally to a conservative than a progressive that even a despot is permitted his sovereignty, so long as he does not threaten us.
What has happened to conservative doubts about the reliability of allies? Conservatives understand the persistence of self-interest in human affairs and should be reluctant to place weight on alliances, or (when it come to the crunch) to expect even our closest ally to act other than self-interestedly.
What has happened to the Tory insistence on putting the national interest first? At the end of all discussion of the ethical dimension of foreign policy, the question “does this benefit us?” should distinguish a conservative in politics. When Tories hear British ministers accuse France of acting “selfishly” our reaction should be to ask whether this is necessarily a bad thing in government.
What has happened to that deeply Tory recognition that the world is a morally ambiguous place? A visceral suspicion of black-and-white arguments in which notions of good and evil crowd out shades of grey is profoundly and healthily conservative.
And through all this, what has happened to our driving interest in cost? A precautionary eye to the price of every grand scheme is one of conservatism’s enduring contributions to our own and other nations’ histories. Typically, and above all else, a conservative should do the sums. A distrust of uncosted policies, a coolness towards foreign adventures, and a raised eyebrow in the face of expensive enthusiasms of a doctrinal sort, should be second nature with us.
All this we seem to be forgetting. We forget that circumspection — the warning: “Hold on a moment; what are the implications, all the implications? What may be the unintended as well as the intended consequences?” is what voters respect us conservatives for. The electorate is more complicated than its news media. It knows what Mao meant when he said that terrorists are “fish that must swim in a friendly sea ” and is able to ask itself whether, on balance, this US President has made the seas friendlier or more hostile to Islamist extremists. Voters do not agree with Mr Blair that it is as simple as deciding whose side we are on.
All these arguments you will hear in any kitchen, sixth form, barrack room or pub in Britain. They are anguished arguments and they take place in all classes and walks of life. Everybody can see that Bush’s strategy is in trouble. Yet the party I belong to has sounded unready even to ask whether the invasion of Iraq last year, and all that has since flowed, may have been a miscalculation.
To be sure, there are lone Tory voices. Kenneth Clarke has given warning that Mr Blair’s policies make Britain more vulnerable to terrorism; Andrew Tyrie MP has argued that the United States is already over-extended. But such voices are maverick.
Could Michael Howard not at least welcome the debate? His party and mine will get elected when the electorate grows fearful or weary of the way things are going. We will get elected when voters take fright at the cost of things. We will get elected when people begin to distrust big mouths and risky ventures.
Such resentments now stalk electorates in Europe wherever their governments have pitched them unwillingly into Mr Bush’s war on an abstract noun. The Right in the West is turning its back on a popular cause, and leaving it by default to that ragbag known variously as liberals, progressives, socialists, or the Left. They are adopting it as their cause; it is a winning cause, and they will win with it. In Madrid they just have. Yet we conservatives have at least as good a claim on arguments that could naturally be our own territory.
No single, central doctrine defines the British Conservative Party, and the fabric of its history is a tangled weave of sometimes contradictory threads. The tally-ho tendency is — undeniably — also a part of the Tory weave. But a Government too ready to sub-contract the British tally-ho to the Texan yee-hah may be reminded by the voters that they at least can see the difference. A Labour Prime Minister has all but cornered the market in the rhetoric of Battling Britain. The Tories would be unwise to vie with him at curdling the voters’ blood.
Iain Duncan Smith tried to, but cut an unconvincing figure. I sense that Michael Howard is — beyond a personal affection for America — rather undecided how to play Iraq.
He should reflect that, real as their personal distress at the Madrid bombings will have been, Tony Blair and George Bush are now shackled to al-Qaeda in a macabre waltz in which the political survival of each depends on the continuing vigour of the other. I do not say that this is what Blair means to do; but such is the dance. It is a waltz the European Centre-Right should sit out.