Paul Smyth writes an engaging piece over at the official UKIP site, and it’s got me thinking about things on a more general level.
Essentially he talks about Obama’s victory speech, where one of the soundbites is that “among a short list of recent or anticipated positive developments he heralded the ending of a ‘decade of war’. It was a popular remark and those outside the US should pay attention to the strong sentiment behind it – America has had enough of foreign military interventions.”
He then counterpoints this with Cameron’s announced “willingness to talk with armed rebels inside Syria. This is a remarkable and ominous development. The UK will now be in direct support of one side fighting a savage civil war, a willing participant in bringing about regime change in a foreign country.” Smyth quite correctly counsels caution into jumping into any direct support or military engagement in Syria.
However, I think he makes a massive miscalculation.
That miscalculation being that I do not think it sensible for one moment to take Obama at his word. Obama is a classic statist, and like all statists the only thing he likes to do more than telling his own population what to do is to tell the governments and populations of other countries what to do.
I cannot think of a four year period post-WWII where either the US nor the UK has not had troops in active service on foreign soil. Be it under Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Labour administrations, both countries are hopelessly, helplessly wedded to throwing their weight around.
Now this doesn’t mean that I think the regimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua, (Former) Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Korea, Egypt or anywhere else were particularly nice or desirable, because I don’t. But just as both the UK and the US have a great deal of qualities in common, we also have this weakness of not being able to resist wading into a good old barney, either because a regime is properly nasty or because we have an economic interest in its overturning or survival. Worse still is the concept that someone is doing something we don’t agree with in ‘our sphere of influence’. It is this word, influence, which troubles me most.
One of the most used arguments against our leaving the EU is that it would reduce our ‘influence’.
Well, why do we need it? Think about it. Reduce it to a domestic level.
I have a friend, a Tory, but nobody is perfect, who likens our membership of the EU to the street on which he lives. ‘I like my neighbours’ he says, ‘I’m friends with most of them, but I don’t want them having the keys to my house and being able to move into my spare room when the mood takes them.’ I think that’s a useful parallel to draw. If we accept that as a completely sensible statement, then I’d ask the question ‘do you have or do you want to exercise influence over what your neighbours do, over how they live their lives?’
As far as I’m concerned, if I live at number 27, I don’t care how the people in number 1 live their lives, how they run their household, as long as it doesn’t have a detrimental impact on how I live and how I run my house. I don’t need influence over them, nor do I want it. I’ve enough on my plate running my own house.
More importantly, slagging off number 1 to all the other residents on the street, and going round, kicking in their front door and laying down the law is not going to win me any friends. Indeed number 1 is likely to be friends with a few houses down the street as well, and I may find that I upset them. Really upset them. I may find that my windows get put through.
We’ve been warned that we run the risk of ending up like Norway or Switzerland. Well, good. They are prosperous beacons of liberty, I prefer the Swiss model to the Norwegian, but I’d still swap places with Norway in a heartbeat. Ask yourself, why are Norway and Switzerland like they are? It isn’t all down to their non-membership of the EU.
These are two nations whose people are, pretty much, welcome, respected, even liked, all over the world. Nobody has a bad word to say about Norway or Switzerland. Why? Both countries have long records of not shouting the odds and making a pain in the arse of themselves.
Civil liberties among the Swiss and Norwegians are among the best in the world, barring one obvious exception (and nobody can ever legislate for the domestically seriously mentally disturbed) I cannot think of any major terrorist attack in either country. Come to that, I cannot think of any minor attack or any plots uncovered. Could this possibly be down to the fact that they don’t go wading in where they’re not welcome, not needed and have no business being?
We are in a situation that becomes like Northern Ireland or Israel/Palestine, it becomes a circular argument, we bomb and shoot them because they want to ‘attack our freedoms and way of life’ and they bomb and shoot us because we seek to impose our moral code upon them. It isn’t sustainable for either side, the only outcome is misery, death, loss of freedom and general despair. Every incident hardens the line taken by us and increases the number who can be recruited by them.
We used to have the greatest empire in the world. But we’re not that country any more. Who appointed us the world’s PCSO (assuming America is the self-appointed world’s policeman)? Why would we want that role? There’s nothing to be gained from it. All we do is piss people off.
Just as with France, we’ve struggled to come to terms with the fact that we’re not the biggest boy in the playground any more. This isn’t a source of regret, it is something we should celebrate, something we should embrace. Just like Norway and Switzerland we can sit there and do our own thing, offering advice to those who come and seek it, and being steadfast in the promise that if anyone attacks our friends in NATO, or certainly our brethren in the Anglosphere Commonwealth, that we will unleash the full force of our fury against them. We can defend ourselves and our nearest and dearest whilst leaving others to do what they see fit.
It isn’t about pulling the shutters down, it is about acting in the best interests of the people who live in this country and acting in a fashion which is commensurate with our place in the world.
One of the UKIP policies is increasing the military budget, but surely if we have an armed force which is almost exclusively for national defence, that is superbly equipped and the best trained in the world, then no increase is needed if we just stop our troops from being sent halfway round the world to play silly buggers in an unwinnable campaign?
Yes, give us the new aircraft carriers, and the aircraft to go on them, we need to be the sleeping dog that people will absolutely want to let lie. I take our NATO membership incredibly seriously, it is without doubt the most important organisation we belong to, NATO and the promise of mutually assured destruction with the Warsaw Pact prevented continent-wide war in the latter half of the 20th century to an immeasurably bigger degree than the EU ever did, would or could. However we don’t need to be haring off to the next trouble spot whenever the call goes out. We don’t have the resources, we shouldn’t have the inclination and I would argue it works against our interests far more often than it serves them.
Both Obama and Cameron are cookie cutter Western politicians, obsessed with holding office and once they’ve got that, obsessed with legacy. They are consumed with how they will be remembered. Blair and Bush will be remembered for Iraq. Eden for Suez. Johnson and Nixon for Vietnam. Obama and Cameron, given the opportunity, will be no different.
Don’t for one minute think that Obama will spend his second term not getting involved. The first term is spent seeking re-election. The second term is good old legacy building. Obama will have his moment, it may be Iran, it may be Syria, it may be somewhere else entirely. But he won’t be able to stop himself, because he will believe that only he can save these poor people in Whereverland from tyranny and evil, and we will go trotting along, as we always do, because our PM, whoever it is, will want a slice of that lovely legacy pie.
The Norwegians and Swiss will do a bit of skiing, have a nice dinner, and put their kids to bed without worrying if the bus on the way to the office is going to be blown up, or about how much of their wage will be taken off them this month to pay for all those missiles and bullets. Nobody will think ill of them.
Influence? You can keep it.