Commentary Magazine


Topic: William Hague

The New British Government Is “Wobbly” on Afghanistan

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

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Cameron Willing to Take Obama’s Shilling to Be a Loyal Soldier Against Israel

Jewish Ideas Daily provides a brief guide to the upcoming British elections for supporters of Israel, but the short answer to the question of which of the three contending political parties will be friendlier to the Jewish state is “None of the Above.” The current Labour government has shown itself to be no friend to Israel, and the Liberal Democrats who hope to play the spoilers on May 6 is home to an even greater proportion of Israel-haters than is the Labour hard-Left. As for the Conservatives, JID gives them some credit: “The tone of party pronouncements on Israel are notably sympathetic. William Hague, a former party leader and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticized Labor for not voting against the Goldstone Report.”

However, Melanie Phillips points out in her Spectator blog that Tory leader David Cameron, whom she prefers to call “David Obameron,” is promising to line up as a loyal soldier in the Obama administration’s diplomatic war on Israel. As evidence she cites the following in an interview with Cameron in the Financial Times published on March 31 (subscription required):

FT: Yes. You managed to tell Mr. Netanyahu that he might want to revise his position on settlements.

DC: I have. Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem. The Foreign Office bod who was with me said, most ministers don’t dare say. So, yes, I thought I had quite an argument when I was in Israel with Tzipi Livni about settlements and I think Obama is right to take a robust line. I think we have to but it is depressing how little progress is being made right now.

So Cameron — whose skimmed-milk New Age version of conservatism may wind up pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in the coming ballot — not only brags about his disdain for a united Jerusalem and his disagreement with the leader of the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the fate of Jerusalem but expresses support for Obama’s diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state. It may well be that trying to identify himself with Obama may be good British politics right now, but this stand seems to conform with the rest of Cameron’s worldview, which is anything but friendly to Israel or the long-term interests of the West. Barack Obama may well be able to count on him in his campaign against Israel while doing nothing about the nuclear threat from Iran.

The bottom line: while some American conservatives may instinctively favor the defeat of a Labour government by the party of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron is no Thatcher. As for friends of Israel, they’ve no rooting interest at all in the outcome.

Jewish Ideas Daily provides a brief guide to the upcoming British elections for supporters of Israel, but the short answer to the question of which of the three contending political parties will be friendlier to the Jewish state is “None of the Above.” The current Labour government has shown itself to be no friend to Israel, and the Liberal Democrats who hope to play the spoilers on May 6 is home to an even greater proportion of Israel-haters than is the Labour hard-Left. As for the Conservatives, JID gives them some credit: “The tone of party pronouncements on Israel are notably sympathetic. William Hague, a former party leader and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticized Labor for not voting against the Goldstone Report.”

However, Melanie Phillips points out in her Spectator blog that Tory leader David Cameron, whom she prefers to call “David Obameron,” is promising to line up as a loyal soldier in the Obama administration’s diplomatic war on Israel. As evidence she cites the following in an interview with Cameron in the Financial Times published on March 31 (subscription required):

FT: Yes. You managed to tell Mr. Netanyahu that he might want to revise his position on settlements.

DC: I have. Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem. The Foreign Office bod who was with me said, most ministers don’t dare say. So, yes, I thought I had quite an argument when I was in Israel with Tzipi Livni about settlements and I think Obama is right to take a robust line. I think we have to but it is depressing how little progress is being made right now.

So Cameron — whose skimmed-milk New Age version of conservatism may wind up pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in the coming ballot — not only brags about his disdain for a united Jerusalem and his disagreement with the leader of the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the fate of Jerusalem but expresses support for Obama’s diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state. It may well be that trying to identify himself with Obama may be good British politics right now, but this stand seems to conform with the rest of Cameron’s worldview, which is anything but friendly to Israel or the long-term interests of the West. Barack Obama may well be able to count on him in his campaign against Israel while doing nothing about the nuclear threat from Iran.

The bottom line: while some American conservatives may instinctively favor the defeat of a Labour government by the party of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron is no Thatcher. As for friends of Israel, they’ve no rooting interest at all in the outcome.

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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.

Read Less




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