In an article in this weeks Spectator, Malcolm Rifkind, calls for Cameron to admit that Iraq was a mistake, and to move away from Blair's "simplistic belief that all Muslim terrorism is part of a single plot".
It seems to me though that Rifkind actually commits the same error that he accuses Blair of committing. Whilst critiquing the supposedly black and white worldview that Blair holds in relation to Muslim extremism, Rifkind simultaneously appears to talk about the Iraq war being a mistake in similar terms. Rifkind argues that Iraq was a mistake because it has heightened the terrorist threat and made Iran the power in the region.
It's undoubtedly true that the post-Saddam planning of Iraq has been an almighty cock-up. However, it also remains true that the conflict would've happened irrespective of our involvement from the outset. In both circumstances we would have a military presence in Iraq today as part of the current UN mission, and in both circumstances Iran would be the power in the region. Britain's role, in or out, would not have changed the situation on the ground today.
When placed in this context you have to ask yourself, what really is it that Rifkind can cite as the mistake over Iraq? I guess it could've been our decision to support the US's stated policy aim. Or it might be the desire to remove a totalitarian Stalinist? One may have a problem with the first reason, but can one honestly say they object to the second?
According to Rifkind we should only be engaging in military action on two conditions. Firstly, if our territorial integrity has been attacked, for which he cites the Falklands as an example. Or secondly, if we have a treaty obligation to act, where Poland in 1939 is the case in point. Is it just me or is the implication here that the policy should be one of either inaction or appeasement? Is that not a throwback to earlier Conservative policy, which saw us outrageously fail to act in time over Bosnia?
Continuing with the "mistake" of Iraq, Rifkind appears to be arguing that the Iraq war has fomented and increased the possibility of acts of terrorism against Britain, ergo, it was a mistake and we shouldn't have done it. The problem with that analysis is that it's based upon the assumption that if we'd not gone into Iraq then acts of terrorism towards Britain were less likely to happen, which is of course a complete unknown.
It's surprising that such an intelligent man as Rifkind would make such an intellectually dicey analysis to be honest. After all, there is nothing to say the threat of terrorism towards Britain was not increasing anyway. Prior to the invasion of Iraq we were engaged in Afghanistan and there was already a growing anti-war movement around that deployment. The news today from British airports could be inspired as much by Afghanistan as by Iraq.
On the issue of Afghanistan - and I admit I have not yet read Rifkind's piece in full - I'm interested to know where that fits into his analysis. Does Afghanistan fall within Rifkind's treaty obligation rule because of Article 5 in the NATO Treaty? As I recall America rejected NATO involvement and so Britain acted as a coalition partner instead. Was Afghanistan a mistake because it breached his rule?
Putting the formal affairs of states aside though, Rifkind also attacks the view that "Muslim terrorism is part of a single plot". As far as I can tell, I don't think that Blair, or Bush for that matter, holds that view at all. There is a clear acknowledgement of the disjointed power network of the extremist Islamofascist groupings. What Blair, Bush and other believe is that the ideology that under-pins the extremism of these people is consistently the same. An honest appraisal of the words coming out of these different groups is evidence of this.
Rifkind, however, cites the war in Chechnya, as an example of where the situation is not one of terror versus freedom, but instead Chechen nationalists against Russian nationalists. There are two problems with this argument for me. Firstly, it ignores the reality of the Islamic element of Chechyan terrorism. Yes, there are nationalist involved, but there are also Muslim extremists who are using such political arguments as cover for their warped view of Islam based upon theocratic values. Second, the argument is not that it's about "terror" against "freedom"; it's about regressive islamofascism against the Enlightenment. Putting it simply, we ignore the roots of the Islamic element of this (and the other problems) at our peril.
The conclusion is simple it seems. In Malcolm Rifkind's world, people like Stalin, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Franco, Mao, Hussein, Mugabe, Milosevic et al are perfectly acceptable as long they don't invade us or invade someone we've agreed to protect. We should also be ignoring their anti-Enlightenment basis for hatred and instead apply Enlightenment ideas of self-determination as grounds for appeasement. High-minded yes. But, ultimately flawed because it ignores reality.
Many commentators have said Rifkind's aim was to exploit the apparent vacuum on foreign policy in the Conservative Party. However is offering a foreign policy based upon "doing nothing" any different to not having one in the first place?