A close distance


Douglas Alexander, the man who brought you the 100,000 disenfranchised Scottish voters, has made a speech in Washington, ahead of a visit by Gordon Brown, which has been interpreted as a criticism of the Bush administration.

This reading of the speech was immediately denied by Number Ten, but since there was prior hype – some might say “spin” – about the significance of what Alexander was to say, it would appear that this denial is a sign that the story is to be believed. Such is the way with New Labour, that nothing can be believed until it has been denied. (Anyone else remember the denials that there would be pre-emptive military action against Iraq?)

The two offending paragraphs are far from a denunciation of the Bush regime and the support given by Blair to the invasion and occupation of Iraq:

We need to demonstrate by our word and our actions that we are: internationalist not isolationist; multilateralist not unilateralist; active not passive; and driven by core values consistently applied, not special interests.

Isolationism simply does not work in an interdependent world. There is no security or prosperity at home unless we deal with the global challenges of security, globalization, climate change, disease and poverty. We must recognise these challenges and champion an internationalist approach – seeking shared solutions to the problems we face.

The usual airy-fairy bullshit, no?

No. Supposedly this is at the same time a signal that nothing’s changed and a sign that something has changed. Confused? You should be – that’s whole the point of the exercise.

Alexander, who was recently made Labour’s election co-ordinator, is not what you’d call a critic of US imperialism. Would the Council on Foreign Relations entertain the views of someone who was not an Atlanticist? Would Brown allow dissent on the war issue from members of his cabinet? In both cases, I think not.

So this was yet another cynical media stunt. The news flashed around the world that a British government minister had distanced the new administration from Bush’s foreign policy. The views of Mark Malloch Brown, a former UN official who was critical of the Iraq war, were also aired – for he has recently been appointed to a post at the foreign office.

Perhaps in future Brown will adhere to the “international” consensus, which will slow things down in future. Certainly, it is the US that is leading the overt intervention of Western imperialism in the Middle East, and the drive to withdraw from Iraq that is coming from within the American ruling class does not foreshadow future passivity.

The possibility of military intervention in Iran cannot be ruled out – no matter how much Tehran co-operates with the UN energy watchdog. Empires on the slide do not act rationally.

It is just as likely that US withdrawal from Iraq will mean renewed focus on Afghanistan. I doubt this would mean a “surge” in Afghanistan – the “Iraq syndrome” has hit recruitment and retention rates, and unless the draft is re-introduced, the Afghan resistance will be countered by almost exclusively by aerial bombardment.

Britain’s “special relationship” has been revealed as a junior partnership in imperial aggression, whatever Alexander might say about fighting international terrorism. Repairing the damage is beyond the best PR guru, but the UK might experience the Brown bounce internationally as the change of leader is understood as a change of strategy. I expect this is not something Brown will be impressing upon his American counterpart…


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