July 29, 2014
Cristina takes the moral high ground
For the Herald
Cristina is in a motherly mood these days so she must have had David Cameron’s best interests at heart when she chided him for spending lots of public money on childish warlike pursuits instead of taking a leaf out of her book and sharing some of what he has among jobless youngsters. A few weeks ago, Dave might have agreed: for some time now, the UK has been trimming its military budget with considerable zeal. But then came regime change in Crimea. To the dismay not just of the hapless Ukrainians but also the North Americans and Europeans, especially the ones who know what it is like to have Russians as neighbours, Vladimir Putin detached the peninsula from its previous owners and added to his own domains without anyone managing to do much about it apart from issuing spine-chilling threats to bar him from some exclusive clubs and prevent a few of his oligarchic cronies from living it up in Western fleshpots.
According to John Kerry, Putin’s behaviour was so nineteenth-century he would simply have to be punished. What worried Kerry, his boss Barack Obama and a great many others, was not the fate of Crimea, where most of the inhabitants clearly feel more Russian than Ukrainian, even though rather more that voted no in that dodgy referendum would have preferred to leave things as they were. They fear that, by acting the way he did, Putin confirmed what many already suspected, that the US and the European Union are pushovers who in theory have enough military hardware to do whatever they want but are simply too gutless to use it.
Obama, Cameron, Angie Merkel et al. have done much to encourage such thoughts. For sound electoral reasons, they have let their constituents know that they are all for more butter and dead against more guns. They believe in soft power, not the old-fashioned nineteenth-century or, what to Europeans is rather more relevant than it seems to be to Kerry, twentieth-century variety. Soft power consists of things like rock music, the delights of consumerism, the allegedly universal yearning for democratic freedom, and so on and so forth which, believers in it assure us, will end up by making everybody agree that the Western way is best.
There can be little doubt that the widespread impression that the US is a paper tiger and the UK a toothless mangy old lion on its deathbed, even though the former possesses much of the world’s firepower and the latter, together with France, most of Europe’s, has had a baleful influence in many places. Repulsive as the thought may be to benevolent people like Cristina, there are plenty of individuals out there who relish war and, should they think they might get away with it, would be more than willing to give it a shot.
North Korea and the Middle East are full of such throwbacks. When not smiling amiably at Westerners, Iran’s “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani, whose table manners are far better than those of his uncouth predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, attends mass rallies in which fist-shaking fanatics chant “death to America”, as well as to the hated “Zionist entity” Israel and, for old times’ sake, the UK, while his military chiefs say they are just waiting to be ordered to spread destruction among the infidel hosts. The Taliban are preparing to take over Afghanistan as soon as the Western interlopers depart. If Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia, newly Islamist Turkey and military-ruled Egypt will probably follow suit. Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad gleefully jumps over those “red lines” Obama is fond of drawing to murder large numbers of his compatriots, but his enemies, among them some brigades linked to al Qaeda, are by all accounts even worse and are currently slaughtering any Christian o Shiite unlucky enough to fall into their hands.
Would an early US-led intervention have stopped Syria becoming a charnel house? In all likelihood it would have, but it would also have meant that huge numbers of people throughout the world would have blamed Washington for whatever bloodshed took place and, in any event, the US would have withdrawn its troops far too early because it does not do colonialism.
Apart from that relatively minor conflict in the South Atlantic Cristina was commemorating when she told Cameron he had got his priorities all wrong, Argentina has been shielded by distance, and the Monroe Doctrine upheld first by the Royal Navy and then by the US, from what for many Europeans are, or were until fairly recently, the facts of life, so the country’s leaders have grown accustomed to subjecting their less privileged counterparts elsewhere to uplifting sermons about the sanctity of life and the need for mutual understanding. Cristina’s contribution to this traditional genre echoed many others made over the years by Radicals and other high-minded Argentine politicians out to remind the world of their own moral superiority.
After decades of living in a North American protectorate, many Europeans have come to adopt an equally optimistic approach to international affairs; warfare is terrible and therefore is not for them. The British and French governments, whether conservative or socialist, have long been berated by far-leftists who think their own countries owe humankind an apology for their many past sins and by a handful of isolationists of a conservative bent, but despite everything they have not yet forgotten that they still live in a dog-eat-dog world. In their view, if you have military power you may never have to make use of it; if you are defenceless and friendless, other will be only too happy to show you that those despicable nineteenth-century norms Kerry thinks Putin still clings to are not as outdated as many see fit to assume.