April 14, 2003

Trying to Get the Left on Track

A nice summation of the current schism in the left between those who support tyrannical murderous regimes and those who oppose them. This is an extract from a letter sent by John Lloyd, a New Statesman columnist resigning his post:

France and Germany, the two leading anti-war states in Europe, baulked at acting against murderous tyrannies or collapsed states throughout the 1990s - in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, as well as Iraq. Where action to overthrow dictatorial regimes has been taken in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and now Iraq, it has been taken either with US prompting, or with the US military in the lead. In the first three cases, the result was a lifting of tyranny and the chance of a better life for the peoples of those countries.

European states are far more active and efficient in providing development assistance and peacekeeping forces than is the US. But there are times when peace must be made before it can be kept; and Europe as a whole has seen such moments as none of its business, relying on the US, and then usually blaming it for carrying the can.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN leaders have spread the message that their organisation could now enter into its own - as a protector of the downtrodden who, most often, are trodden on by their own rulers. This movement culminated, less than two years ago, in a Canadian-sponsored report, A Responsibility to Protect -- a brilliant summation of the arguments for stripping tyrants of sovereign inviolability. Of the major government leaders, only Blair has embraced the report, as the logical extension of the ethical dimension in foreign policy that Labour promulgated when it came to office.

Most of the left refused to follow this line. For some, it has been enough to declare all ethical dimensions phoney, since states such as Britain continued to shake hands with tyrants. For others, state sovereignty seems a necessary protection against what they see as the largest threat to the world: US imperialism.

US imperialism, in this view of a now resurgent part of the left, is composed of a mixture of things: efforts to control energy resources, principally oil; the repression of the Palestinians to ensure the security of the US "client state" Israel; a US refusal to tolerate any power that counterbalances its own; a hatred of all cultures other than its own, and a determination to destroy such cultures to make the world passively receptive to American values and merchandise.

Will the end of the war and the effort to rebuild decent government in Iraq change the view of the left? It would seem unlikely: the anti-US reflex is too ingrained, the dislike of Blair too great.

Yet the left's programme now should be to argue in favour of committing resources to those multilateral agencies that work, and to seek agreement from those forces everywhere in the world that are committed to democratic (or at least more responsive) government and to an observation of human and civil rights. The aim, as the US political scientist Michael Walzer has put it, should be a "strong international system, organised and designed to defeat aggression, to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing, to control weapons of mass destruction and to guarantee the physical security of all the world's peoples".

Posted by campbell at April 14, 2003 01:19 AM | TrackBack
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