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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The BBC and the RIIA: an axis of weasels

The BBC is leading this morning with the ridiculous Chatham House paper on Blair's Foreign Policy record.

Who are these people? The author of the document (all five-and-a-half pages of it) is Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas, who had a background in Latin American politics before taking over at the RIIA (Chatham House).

It's an astonishingly thin, intellectually hazy, and lazy piece of work. He writes that:
"Tony Blair's successor(s) will not be able to offer unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy and a rebalancing of the UK's foreign policy between the US and Europe will have to take place."
And that's as detailed as the argument gets - basically an assertion of the random political preferences of Prof. Bulmer-Thomas.

Margaret Beckett has hit the nail on the head with her response: "This paper is threadbare, insubstantial and just plain wrong. Chatham House has established a great reputation over the years, but this paper will do nothing to enhance it."

So why does this ludicrous piece of junk get on the top of the news? It coincides exactly with the BBC world-view: Blair's a poodle, Bush is an ape, we should bin the yanks and "get deeper into Europe" in some unspecified way.

Quite apart from the headline message, the paper is a frustrating read. For example there is a throwaway line about how "The emphasis on aid and debt relief for Africa in return for an improvement in governance may come to look strangely old-fashioned." What does this mean? We are not told.

The sniffy tone doesn't help either: "Tony Blair has learnt the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for very little." That sort of stuff obviously does it for the BBC in a big way, but it doesn't leave any of us any the wiser about how the RIIA think we should run our foreign policy.

The only good thing about the report is that it's a good distillation of the intellectual incoherence / fantasy politics at the heart of the pro-euro movement. For example:
What US governments want is a European Union that can make a real contribution to the international political and security agenda, and any European government with the diplomatic skills to deliver EU support will be hugely appreciated. Britain has an opportunity to play that role provided it is taken seriously by its European partners and contributes fully to the European project. In due course, that will require the United Kingdom to revisit its opposition to joining both the Schengen agreement and the Eurozone.
So the solution for our problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran etc is... for Britain to join the euro? These people have lost their minds.

The US would certainly like European countries to pull their finger out, deploy troops in the dangerous parts of Afghanistan, and relax the rule-of-engagement / human rights law constraints on what they can do. The US would like European countries to spend more on defence. They would probably like more diplomatic support too.

The problem is that for several countries European defence is about finding a way to spend even less on defence. Its about pointlessly confronting the US diplomatically, and it weakens the international structure (NATO) which allows meaningful transatlantic cooperation. Instead the EU offers the prospect of endless meetings, and press-release diplomacy. Somebody once said that the EU was a like a retirement home for former world powers. In that sense the EU and RIIA suit each other well.


Anonymous said...

stop pussy footing around and tell us what you really think of this report...

JR said...

I will link to that tonight on: