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Britain's Blair Represents "An Earlier Anti-Totalitarian Left"

2:46 PM, Mar 8, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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This cover piece, Freedom Fighter, in the latest issue of Progress, a journal published by British Labour Party members, is sure to get the attention of the anti-Bush folks on the island. Oliver Kamm, author of Anti-Totalitarianism: the Left-wing Case for a Neo-Conservative Foreign Policy, argues that Blair's policies are consistent with "the principles of an earlier anti-totalitarian left." What's more, Kamm contends, "in pursuing regime change, Bush has adopted Blairism, not the other way round." And, he further argues, Blair's policies represent "a shrewd strategic judgment" that understands the need "to transform a region that has acted as an incubator for religious fanaticism by failing to provide an outlet for any other kind of dissidence."

Kamm writes:

"The overthrow of theocratic despotism in Afghanistan and Ba'athist tyranny in Iraq is central to Blair's record. It is part of a distinctive approach that has marked his premiership. That stance represents continuity with the principles of an earlier anti-totalitarian left, and a shrewd strategic judgment of where Britain's security interests lie in the early 21st century. It is, moreover, sharply at odds with the philosophy and practice of John Major's government....

The foreign policy of Blair is more than Iraq, but Iraq is how history will judge him, and supporters of the prime minister need to make the case for regime change.

Let us start with what was genuinely the biggest blunder in British foreign policy since Suez. This was Britain's failure, under a Tory government, to prevent Serb aggression against Bosnia in the early 1990s. Policy at that time consisted of what the historian Brendan Simms has termed a conservative pessimism about the limits to the effective exercise of power in the international order....

You cannot understand Blair's policies in Iraq without that background. Long before 9/11, he took a fundamentally different approach from Major, Rifkind and Douglas Hurd, and not only in declaratory policy. In Kosovo, he confronted Serb aggression rather than acquiesced in it. He also sent British troops to preserve Sierra Leone from hand-lopping rebels, aware both of the demands of liberal internationalism and of the potential for a failed state to become far more than a regional problem. He argued his case long before President Bush came to see the urgency of promoting democracy overseas....

Of course, there were grievous failures of intelligence over WMD, and the maladministration of post-Ba'athist Iraq has been a scandalous dereliction of duty. But there should be no questioning of the immense benefits to Iraq and to ourselves of overthrowing a gangster regime. Saddam was not responsible for 9/11, but he welcomed it and sought a WMD capability in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. Ba'athist Iraq did not have stockpiles of WMD, but it did possess dual-use facilities that, according to Charles Duelfer of the Iraq Survey Group, could have produced chemical and biological weapons on a rapid turnaround.

Saddam was a sponsor of terrorism, and the most likely conduit for Islamist groups to obtain WMD. There were clear grounds for expecting Saddam to be a regional menace, and few for expecting him to be containable in the way that the Soviet Union was during the cold war. Soviet leaders were brutal and expansionist, but they were rational and calculating political agents. Saddam launched three wars in 17 years (against Iran in 1974, Iran again in 1980, and Kuwait in 1990) that almost destroyed his regime.

But there is a wider issue in the case for regime change. What marked British policy under Major, and was the principal weakness of US foreign policy in the cold war, was a ‘realism' that took an impossibly narrow view of western strategic interests. In the Balkans in the 1990s, British policymakers allowed a nation to be dismembered by aggressive and genocidal nationalism. In the cold war, American administrations were prone to ally with authoritarian regimes as a bulwark against communism. Both approaches were far from serving the purposes that realism set itself. What overcame communist totalitarianism in Eastern Europe was partly collective security involving alliances and military preparedness. But, at root, it was the power of an idea: the appeal of an open and liberal society, as opposed to a closed and sclerotic one. The task of western governments against a new totalitarian threat - though a very old, atavistic totalitarian idea, in Islamist fanaticism - is similarly to implant the notion of freedom....

In the cold war, the nuclear stand off that had dominated world affairs for two generations was finally robbed of its terror by a transformation in the underlying political relations between states. Totalitarianism gave way to the promise of constitutionalism. Our most urgent task today is to transform a region that has acted as an incubator for religious fanaticism by failing to provide an outlet for any other kind of dissidence. Making the spread of democracy the cornerstone of foreign policy extends progressive values and at the same time protects our security. It is a principle that the overthrow of Saddam has served. Regime change in states that have committed atrocities against captive peoples ought to be the thing of which Labour supporters are proudest."