Commentary Magazine


Topic: British Foreign Office

Andrew Roberts’ History Lesson

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

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Zeno of Elea’s Triumph in Iran

In the age-old battle of the philosophical postures — “nothing can possibly happen” versus “everything is about to” — Zeno’s logical paradoxes seem to be winning out for control of the Western mindset on Iran. I’m reminded of Zeno’s paradox that “motion is impossible” every time I see another development that quite obviously means Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Zeno, you will remember from Logic 101, posited that motion is impossible because every distance to be moved can be split in half in an infinite regression, while the supposed mover can be in only one place at a given point in time.

Of course, for practical purposes, we accept the reality of motion and predicate much of our daily lives on it. Nevertheless, many Westerners are using Zeno’s approach to perpetually argue that no matter what we discover Iran has been up to, it doesn’t mean there are going to be nuclear weapons coming out of it any time soon.

The Zeno Refrain started almost immediately after Monday’s revelation by the Times of London of an Iranian document that showed that the country was pursuing a uranium deuteride (UD-3) initiator — something only a nuclear weapon can make use of — as late as 2007. Never mind that A.Q. Khan and the Chinese have worked with UD-3 initiators for nuclear warheads. Never mind that the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported back in 2005 that Iran was pursuing the UD-3 initiator. Never mind that some of the foremost think-tank experts on Iran’s nuclear program, at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirm that “although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, it has no civil application.”

None of this, according to the same ISIS experts, means that this revelation is a “smoking gun.” Instead:

The document could describe work to develop and maintain a capability rather than being part of a program authorized to build nuclear weapons.  The document does not mention nuclear weapons and we have seen no evidence of an Iranian decision to build them.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office did tell the Times that the document “raises serious questions about Iran’s intentions.” But since that’s been said about every previous revelation, the real question is how many more of these “questions” need to be raised before we drop the Zeno approach — which is summed up perfectly in this reader comment from the always useful Arms Control Wonk website:

Research into the physics of nuclear explosions (i.e. obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability) is different from pursuing an active weapons program (i.e. diversion of material, of which there is no evidence).

The buried premise is that, for our policy purposes, merely “obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability” is a different issue from “pursuing an active weapons program.” But just as Zeno could be made to look irrelevant by an arrow hitting its target or by Achilles overtaking the tortoise, so the hair splitters on Iran’s nuclear program are, with increasing frequency, made to look irrelevant by the repeated emergence of new information on Tehran’s intentions and activities. Their central error is looking for a smoking gun in the first place. A smoking gun is only available after the trigger has been pulled. What we look for beforehand is the time-honored intelligence pairing of intention and capability — and if we saw the set of Iran-related indicators piling up for any other nation, from Anguilla to Vanuatu, we would say it’s a nuclear-weapons program, and we’d say the hell with it.

In the age-old battle of the philosophical postures — “nothing can possibly happen” versus “everything is about to” — Zeno’s logical paradoxes seem to be winning out for control of the Western mindset on Iran. I’m reminded of Zeno’s paradox that “motion is impossible” every time I see another development that quite obviously means Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Zeno, you will remember from Logic 101, posited that motion is impossible because every distance to be moved can be split in half in an infinite regression, while the supposed mover can be in only one place at a given point in time.

Of course, for practical purposes, we accept the reality of motion and predicate much of our daily lives on it. Nevertheless, many Westerners are using Zeno’s approach to perpetually argue that no matter what we discover Iran has been up to, it doesn’t mean there are going to be nuclear weapons coming out of it any time soon.

The Zeno Refrain started almost immediately after Monday’s revelation by the Times of London of an Iranian document that showed that the country was pursuing a uranium deuteride (UD-3) initiator — something only a nuclear weapon can make use of — as late as 2007. Never mind that A.Q. Khan and the Chinese have worked with UD-3 initiators for nuclear warheads. Never mind that the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported back in 2005 that Iran was pursuing the UD-3 initiator. Never mind that some of the foremost think-tank experts on Iran’s nuclear program, at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirm that “although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, it has no civil application.”

None of this, according to the same ISIS experts, means that this revelation is a “smoking gun.” Instead:

The document could describe work to develop and maintain a capability rather than being part of a program authorized to build nuclear weapons.  The document does not mention nuclear weapons and we have seen no evidence of an Iranian decision to build them.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office did tell the Times that the document “raises serious questions about Iran’s intentions.” But since that’s been said about every previous revelation, the real question is how many more of these “questions” need to be raised before we drop the Zeno approach — which is summed up perfectly in this reader comment from the always useful Arms Control Wonk website:

Research into the physics of nuclear explosions (i.e. obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability) is different from pursuing an active weapons program (i.e. diversion of material, of which there is no evidence).

The buried premise is that, for our policy purposes, merely “obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability” is a different issue from “pursuing an active weapons program.” But just as Zeno could be made to look irrelevant by an arrow hitting its target or by Achilles overtaking the tortoise, so the hair splitters on Iran’s nuclear program are, with increasing frequency, made to look irrelevant by the repeated emergence of new information on Tehran’s intentions and activities. Their central error is looking for a smoking gun in the first place. A smoking gun is only available after the trigger has been pulled. What we look for beforehand is the time-honored intelligence pairing of intention and capability — and if we saw the set of Iran-related indicators piling up for any other nation, from Anguilla to Vanuatu, we would say it’s a nuclear-weapons program, and we’d say the hell with it.

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Andrew Roberts: On Iran, Israel Must Emulate Nelson and Churchill

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

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Why Is Obama So Disrespectful of Britain?

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States — from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States — from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

Read Less




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