Tony Blair's Internationalism

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Like President Bush, Prime Minister Blair is on a round of speeches about terrorism and foreign policy. Blair’s first speech, delivered on March 21, 2006 is two parts attack on the anti-war critics and one part advertisement of Blair’s brand of internationalism.

The internationalism Blair wants

In his heart of hearts, Blair wouldn’t mind resurrecting the British Empire. He can’t get that, so next best is an alliance with the strongman named the U.S. in which Blair controls the action. Failing that comes a British-U.S. partnership in which the two nations either go it alone or create a cluster of satellites that remakes the world in the Western image. Spotted somewhere into this picture are the U.N., NATO, and other organizations like the World Bank and the IMF, all to be utilized whenever convenient for British ends.

Blair suggests that "unless we articulate a global policy based on common values, we risk chaos threatening our stability, economic and political, through letting extremism, conflict or injustice go unchecked." It is hard to imagine a more exaggerated set of goals unless it is Bush’s hyperbolic aim to eliminate tyranny everywhere. Blair means to control extremism, conflict, and injustice through a "global policy." In practice this means a global military force under Western control. Blair has mailed an invitation signed by himself to himself asking himself to intervene anywhere in the world. He wants a standing international army, even if he never comes right out and says so. Like all unbridled neoconservatives, he wants benevolent global hegemony.

It is understandable that statists like Blair will never consider or mention the alternative of privatizing all the functions supposedly delivered so marvelously by the organizations run by the Blairs, Bushes, Putins, Hu Jintaos, Annans, Singhs, Chavezes, and Mugabes of this world. But he also does not believe in the alternative of local and nearby government responsive and accountable to the local communities they serve, that is, the classic American ideal. He believes in the maximum of centralization of power, in unresponsive and unaccountable power, and in paralyzing regulation administered by remote and unlistening bureaucracies. These institutions don’t risk chaos. They bring chaos. They are chaos masquerading as order.

Internationalism has severe defects

Within his barely-concealed quest for a standing international force to impose order lies the great risk of a tyranny over the entire world. This is not about to happen, but it’s where Blair’s visions and policies will lead. World tyranny is not what Blair wants or envisions. He imagines a neutral police force enforcing the peace, like the bobbies patrolling London or the Paris gendarmes. But who is to give them their marching orders? Who is to decide what dissidents they kill or repress? Who is to decide what sides to take in the world’s numerous messy conflicts? Who is to pay for this force? How will the people control this force?

We cannot rely on the good intentions of Western leaders. Under the loosened confines of democratic or republican constitutional methods of control, they have repeatedly demonstrated that they can be just as ruthless and brutal as any tyrant or dictator whom they condemn. They have shown that they are capable of the greatest blunders in assessing which sides to take in local conflicts. They have shown that in many instances they are downright incapable of creating stability. In fact, they have shown time and again that their interferences produce even more long-lasting conflicts that spread in ever-widening circles and that breed more and more instability and destruction. No, we certainly cannot rely on good intentions. That is not the way this world works. Mr. Blair is dreaming.

Blair’s internationalist pretensions are not new for him. The general basis for his policy wish-list is "a doctrine of international community" with justification "as least as much by reference to values as interests." His first axiom is "that the defining characteristic of today’s world is interdependence."

In reality Blair’s internationalism is a thoroughly statist, expansionist, and world-government-oriented affair. It is a retreaded mix of suffocating British socialism, ambitions for world empire, and white man’s burden blown up to international scope.

Internationalism hasn’t worked

The phrase "international community" stems from Blair’s 1999 Chicago speech. Here he first laid out the internationalist political model that he is now hawking as reason for the war against terrorism. Here he showed how a glib political leader can cook up a socialist stew by mixing in the faddish phrases of the day — globalisation, international co-operation, global markets, human rights violations, interdependence, international institutions, international community, global environment, global financial markets, and global security. But what does this recipe produce? Removing the pot lid reveals international financial regulation, international control of trade, sustenance and enhancement of the U.N. Security Council and NATO, approval of the Kyoto agreement, and manipulations to bail out debtor nations and the banks that have loaned them money. This is the unsavory mess that is being passed off as world-class cuisine. We are not buying, Mr. Blair.

In practice, Blair’s politics of internationalism at that time meant singling out Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic as devils of the day. They were the "dangerous and ruthless men" who by Blair’s exalted insight into world values had to be shown the door, so that future tyrants-in-training would learn a lesson and behave themselves. Has this scare-tactic worked? It backfires when the international force, such as the U.S. force in Iraq, fails to gain control; for then it shows its weakness. At that point, anyone with a gun or a bomb is encouraged to fire them off. In fact, they can fire them off even if the world force supposedly has control.

Control of one country by another is not the easy matter that Blair presumes. There are any number of countries that have put together successive decades of peace, and they have done so with a variety of homegrown governments. But how many examples are there of one country successfully imposing its will on another country in which we observe decades of peace in the subservient or conquered nation? We are more likely to see insurrection, rebellion, and brutal means used by the conquerors to keep the peace. Conquerors quite often are driven out or beat a face-saving retreat.

In his 1999 speech Blair termed NATO’s intervention in Kosovo a just war that was designed to end ethnic cleansing and rid the world of the evil dictator, President Milosevic. In point of fact, Milosevic was an elected President. He ran ahead of his party which won 80.5% of the vote in the December 1990 election. In point of fact, observers of Milosevic’s war crimes trial held that, after several years, the prosecution’s case had failed miserably. In point of fact, the western leaders like Bill Clinton that instigated the bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia acted unjustly. They are as guilty of war crimes as the present-day Bush Administration officials are for the Iraq War.

Blair in 1999 bemoaned the "destructive policies" of both Milosevic and Saddam Hussein that have "brought calamity on their own peoples." Couldn’t the same be said of Britain’s destructive governmental policies or those of any other state in the world? Couldn’t the same be said of America’s intervention in Iraq for the Iraqi people? He added: "Instead of enjoying its oil wealth Iraq has been reduced to poverty, with political life stultified through fear." Maybe Mr. Blair has special insight after all. This is an apt description of today’s Iraq.

Blair on terrorism

In his recent speech, Blair implies that Western interventions have not made terrorism worse. What does this statement mean? There are tactics of terror, and there are users of these tactics. The chances are that the tactics of delivering terror are evolving in response to Western methods of warfare, although the basic guerilla tactic of infiltrating and harming the enemy or the civilian population remains the same. The chances are that the original set of terrorists (like associates of al-Qaeda), if we could identify its members, has in fact grown. What we can be sure of because we see the bloody results daily is that the occupation in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein have led to a big increase in users of terror tactics among Iraqi groups, and these were not using these tactics before. Blair is dead wrong.

One goal of Blair is to paint a picture of the conflict between Western peoples and terrorists that supports Bush’s neoconservative strategy of intervening in other countries militarily in order to free suppressed peoples so that they can politically express their inborn yearnings for western-style democracy. Neoconservatives are not satisfied in killing known terrorists who have committed mass crimes. They also are not satisfied in promoting Western ideology in opposition to extremist ideologies that they detest. They do not believe in a competition of ideas. They believe in warfare as a means of snuffing out their opposition. They not only think they are correct and have a better way of life, which are acceptable behaviors, but they also believe in the military crusade to achieve their goals and this is unacceptable behavior. Blair calls this being "strongly activist," a euphemism for a crusade. When Bush in 2001 spoke of "this crusade, this war on terrorism," the French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said: "We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs. One has to avoid falling into this huge trap, this monstrous trap conceived by the instigators of the assault." Blair has not changed his tune one bit since that initial folly. He continues to compound it.

Blair goes even further than promoting the idea of a clash of civilizations. He views the West as in a titanic struggle for civilization against barbarity. Talk about extremism! Where is the moderation and restraint, where is the prudence in this point of view? How can this do anything but confer far too high a status on a small group of terrorists who do not speak for Muslims in general?

Blair on Islamic fundamentalist regimes

Blair is against countries being ruled by extreme fundamentalist Islamic political leaders. He does not see a "clash between civilizations. It is a clash about civilization." In other words, extremist Muslims are uncivilized. They are against civilization itself, defined as Western ideas of democracy, rights, freedom, progress, and optimism. All of these are "democratic values, which do not belong to any race, religion or nation, but are universal." Blair sees an embattled world, riven with a dire conflict, a world poised to destroy western civilization. There seems a streak of delusion or madness here and an unnatural degree of fear, but such views also satisfy the yearnings of leaders who wish to see themselves as the Churchills of our age and need Hitlers to oppose.

Perhaps God is dead in Blair’s mind and he has replaced it with democracy as the ultimate value, but he does not speak for mankind. If Islamic countries in one way or another, peacefully or not, become ruled by Islamic regimes with varying fundamentalist pedigrees, Blair and the West would do well to exercise tolerance, restraint, patience, and moderation. They need not actively fight these regimes as long as they do not attack western countries. The natural laws of life will prevail before long and the regimes will alter in the face of exigencies, constraints, new faces, the aspirations of their subjects, trade, contact with others, their own failings, etc.

But no, Blair is not of a mind to allow to occur a multiplicity of unplanned and spontaneous human actions below the surface of the grand actions of statesmen like him. As he sees it, the uncivilized terrorist and Islamic fundamentalists “do not see opportunity in the modern world.” There is a clash between “extremism and progress.” “It is a battle of values and progress…” “This is, ultimately, a battle about modernity.” Yes, there is a conflict in the philosophies of religiously-based states and secular states. But there need not be violent conflict between their states or their societies. And Blair need not elevate the political, religious and other agendas of a variety of terrorists, separatists, secessionists, rebels, tribalists, and fundamentalists into a large-scale battle between Western secular states and Islamic fundamentalist states whether they be moderate or radical. Defending against criminal terrorists does not have to be transformed into world war.

What all this comes down to politically is the Bush-Rice doctrine: The West does not accept and cannot live with states ruled by fundamentalist Islamic regimes. The West insists upon democracies. Furthermore, as the Palestinian and Iraq cases reveal, the outcomes of the democratic process are not enough to satisfy the West’s quests for what are called stability and proper values.

Blair and the anti-war critics

Much of Blair’s speech is taken up with a rhetorical attack on anti-war critics. Most of it consists of debating flourishes and straw-men attacks.

For example, Blair characterizes his and Britain’s foreign policy as "strongly activist." This may be accurate, but it justifies nothing because activism per se is neither good not bad. Blair wants us to think that being active is better than being passive, and being strongly activist is better still. But the words "strongly activist" are empty rhetoric. The important thing is the brand of activism. Who is engaging in this activism? Are their actions just or unjust? Are the actions prudent and effective? His defense will have to address these questions. They cannot rely on action in and of itself.

Blair wants to justify the interventions of the western nations and their "military action in Kosova, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq." He wants to disparage "a doctrine of benign inactivity." This is, of course, a straw man. Charles H. Featherstone, among others, provides an alternative set of actions. There were and are many such "activist" alternatives provided by many writers that outline agendas that do not involve wars in country after country.

Furthermore, Blair cannot think beyond the confines of states being the only organizations that can act benignly, justly, and militarily across borders or internationally. States have preempted these arenas and made private alternatives illegal for a very long time. They have obliterated the private incentives for such actions. If we do not observe such alternatives in action, there is good reason why we do not. But I am sure that it would be no problem to create a private contingent of skilled professionals to hunt down al-Qaeda operatives. Blair ignores all such alternatives and prefers to set up and knock down straw men such as doing nothing, isolationism, or other bugbears such as appeasement, watching genocides occur, or allowing Hitlers to rise. His rhetoric in this direction is highly misleading because it presumes that states are the only available organizations capable of initiating punitive actions against international criminals.

Blair’s sharpest line is that those against intervention believe that "Saddam should have been left in place or the Taliban free to continue their alliance with al-Qaida." If you aren’t with us, folks, then you are in favor of the enemy. But one can surely disapprove of Saddam and the Taliban without endorsing an attack by Britain or the U.S. on them.

The other side of Blair’s jibe is this. Bush and Blair believe that if a state disapproves of selected tyrants or tyrannical friends of its enemies, then that state is morally obligated and justified in launching wars against these nations. The right behavior in the face of tyranny, genocide, or any crime is not war. War is a generalized and widespread activity that severely harms noncombatants. No country has the right to injure innocent people while seeking to stop tyrants or catch criminals. War often leads to further war and prolongs combat. The right behavior is focused and sharp action limited to the specific tyrants, mass-murderers, or criminals. Such action should probably be quiet, secret, and undercover. Furthermore, the police, the military, the country, the mercenaries, or the private vigilantes that engage in these crime-stopping actions should be responsible for collateral damage or errors in their actions.

Conclusions

Blair in 1999 declared "We are all internationalists now…" In practice this statement is a euphemism for hubristic action. The anointed nations of the West that are blessed with singular destructive power, singular knowledge of democracy and values, and a singular overestimate of their power and influence will order the globe according to their wills. They will do so by using their wiles and influence within the U.N. and NATO where possible. Otherwise, they will unilaterally or in combination act against any threat, visible or imagined, to their well-being. They will use any level of force they desire in doing so. They will rule the waves and continents. Hail Internationalism! Hail Britannia! Hail America!

Internationalism is a bigger version of statism, subject to the same criticisms, only more so. The more remote the power, the less accountable it is and the more likely it is to make gross error. No citizen can rely on the good intentions of elected officials. Still less can the citizens of the world rely upon international force structures set up and run by one or more states. They are even less accountable and even less responsible. What’s worse than a state? A superstate, an international power structure. International organizations set up by states can only become even more bureaucratic, arbitrary, and prone to make bad decisions than states already are.

Given the elastic possibilities of tyranny present in today’s world, Blair’s internationalism justifies virtually any intervention anywhere and anytime. What state is not guilty of multiple tyrannies, small and large? Their whole existence and methods are built on them. Blair’s proposal provides no advance whatever in the science of politics. Rather it is a specious rationale for some states who camouflage their tyrannies with democratic majorities and other electoral devices to intervene in the affairs of other tyrannies who in a less sophisticated manner care not that their tyrannies are open to the view of others.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.

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