Not how the world is
Blair: the endless desirability of war
January 17, 2007
Begging your sufferance, I belatedly turn to Tony Blair’s “defence” speech, delivered on board HMS
Plymouth Albion last week, and find that, although the PM has not suddenly become any more impressive a thinker, he has at least been collecting new euphemisms. Blair rarely talks of starting wars, but scrabbles around for all kind of bureaucratic circumlocutions, from “hard power” to this particularly fine construction:
In October 2001, the Taleban in Afghanistan was subject to military action. Within two months by the use of vast airpower, they were driven from office.
Not only must the story be cast, clumsily, in the passive voice, it appears that to be bombed is now to be “subject to military action”. Interesting, this use of “subject to”. When it is said that people who break some bylaw will be “subject to” fines or imprisonment, it carries a sense of deserved vulnerability to an impersonally imposed punishment. Blair thus casts the story as the Taleban offending objective cosmic justice and paying the price. When a first-person plural finally appears, it is to celebrate our prudence: “The cost to our forces was minimal.”
Tony has also been busy rewriting history:
Eighteen months later, with Saddam consistently refusing to abide by UN Resolutions and with alarm at the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Iraq was invaded. This time it was more difficult and more costly. Nonetheless, Saddam was removed within 3 months, again by the exercise of overwhelming military firepower.
Notice again the passive voice: “Iraq was invaded.” You might enjoy, too, the cunning lie about Saddam “consistently refusing to abide by UN Resolutions” (he was complying with inspections, according to the inspectors themselves, until the inspectors were pulled out), and the subtle transformation of the motivations claimed by the impersonal dispensers of objective justice. Whereas it was announced at the time that Saddam specifically had “stockpiles” of chemical and biological weapons, Blair now retreats, because Saddam did not in fact have such stockpiles, to the invocation of generalised “alarm at the proliferation” of such weapons, as well as of nuclear weapons, which even the US and UK governments did not claim Saddam actually had at the time.
Meanwhile, the useful term “removed” makes another of its regular appearances, to be twinned with the use of “driven from office” for the Taleban. One may as easily be “driven from office” by a tabloid revelation as by a bombing campaign, and so war is described in terms of political business as usual. The fact that the “exercise” of military “force” or “action” involves killing people and destroying things is soothingly sidelined by these terms of abstract political machismo, “removed” and “driven”.
The main message of Blair’s speech was that Britain should not be satisfied with peacekeeping but should continue to start wars. What kind of wars? Well, it seems, any old wars. Don’t believe me? I quote:
There is a case for Britain in the early 21st Century, with its imperial strength behind it, to slip quietly, even graciously into a different role. We become leaders in the fight against climate change, against global poverty, for peace and reconciliation; and leave the demonstration of “hard” power to others. I do not share that case but there is quite a large part of our opinion that does. Of course, there will be those that baulk at the starkness of that choice. They will say yes in principle we should keep the “hard” power, but just not in this conflict or with that ally. But in reality, that’s not how the world is.
That’s not how the world is. What is not how the world is? Well, the idea that “we should keep the ‘hard’ power, but just not in this conflict or with that ally”. In other words, and please let me know if I am translating too liberally: the idea that one might carefully choose which wars are justified and which not. What a silly idea! That’s not how the world is. It’s all wars or none of them. Is this really what Blair said? I’ve read it several times and can’t find any more generous interpretation. He continues:
The reason I am against this case, is that for me “hard” and “soft” power are driven by the same principles. The world is interdependent. That means we work in alliance with others. But it also means problems interconnect. Poverty in Africa can’t be solved simply by the presence of aid. It needs the absence of conflict. Failed states threaten us as well as their own people. Terrorism destroys progress. Terrorism can’t be defeated by military means alone. But it can’t be defeated without it. Global interdependence requires global values commonly or evenly applied. But sometimes force is necessary to get the space for those values to be applied: in Sierra Leone or Kosovo for example. So, for me, the setting aside of “hard” power leads inexorably to the weakening of “soft” power.
Blair neglects to tell us which countries we will be compelled to invade in order to set the stage for the use of “soft power” in countering global warming or pandemic disease, but I’m sure that was just an oversight. War, after all, is endlessly useful, for it is the most vigorous form of talking:
When the Taleban murder a teacher in front of his class, as they did recently, for daring to teach girls; that is an act not just of cruelty but of ideology. Using force against them to prevent such an act is not “defence” in the traditional territorial sense of that word, but “security” in the broadest sense, an assertion of our values against theirs.
That’s right: bombing is moralizing speech, “an assertion of our values”. Our values are those of bombing. And we must bomb everywhere or not at all. I say to you now, we will bomb and bomb again until the whole world shares our bombing values. Thank you.