Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Loyal Opposition

A comment to my September 11 post (at the start of the weekend, September 8) complaining about political polarization over the last five years asked with whom the president should make peace. My answer was simple: the loyal opposition.

This speech by David Cameron, Britain's Conservative Party leader, makes me feel not so all alone. I find what he says to be compelling and inspiring. And I grieve for the lack of a similar level of civility in Washington. Thanks to Greg Djerejian for the link.

...It is important to take care when developing foreign policy in opposition.
First, we are Her Majesty's loyal opposition - and I take the 'loyal' part seriously. Where possible, we should offer support to the government so ministers can speak abroad with the authority of the whole country.
And second, we should use the time and space available to us seriously.
Foreign policy-making should not be a narrow discipline: we should bring a wide range of experts into the process.

...we should try to debate foreign policy in a mature and responsible way.
It is not responsible to try and polarise debate through simplistic exercises in political positioning.
If you question the approach of the US administration, you're "anti-American".
If you support what the United States is doing, you're "America's poodle".
If you care about civil liberties, you're "soft on terror". If you back an extension of our security laws, you're "building a police state".
These are not mature contributions to debate.
Foreign policy decisions are not black and white, something which the public well understands.
We need a sense of balance, judgment and proportion in handling the complex and dangerous challenges of foreign and security policy in the 21st century.

We will not defeat the terrorists unless we cut off their life support systems.
And the deformed vision of Islam which inspires some of them is part of a wider picture that includes the perception by many Muslims that Islam is under attack, the suppression of political freedom and economic opportunity by ruthless dictatorships, the relative lack of progress in some Muslim societies, and the belief that the west deliberately fails to resolve issues of crucial concern to Muslims, like Palestine.
The clear implication of this is that we cannot just rely on conventional counter-terrorism.
We need a broader and highly co-ordinated strategy...identifying and thwarting terrorist plots, separating the terrorists from their recruiting base, and winning the trust of the majority Muslim community, addressing the geopolitical issues that constitute direct and indirect security threats.

...I believe that in the last five years we have suffered from the absence of two crucial qualities which should always condition foreign policy-making.
Humility, and patience.
These are not warlike words.
They are not so glamorous and exciting as the easy sound-bites we have grown used to in recent years.
But these sound-bites had the failing of all foreign policy designed to fit into a headline.
They were unrealistic and simplistic.
They represented a view which sees only light and darkness in the world - and which believes that one can be turned to the other as quickly as flicking a switch.
I do not see things that way. I am a liberal conservative, rather than a neo-conservative.
Liberal - because I support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention.
Conservative - because I recognise the complexities of human nature, and am sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world.

He goes on to advance some very realistic alternatives to sabre rattling and military intervention.

...it is not military might alone which will deliver security to us, or freedom for the world.
If we accept that democracy takes time; that it is founded on the institutions of society, and that it cannot easily be imposed from without, then we must put far greater effort into helping undermine dictators and tyrannies from within, and helping moderate regimes to move forward.
Bombs and missiles are bad ambassadors.
They win no hearts and minds; they can build no democracies.
There are more tools of statecraft than military power.
Intelligence, economic development, educational training, support for pro-democracy groups, international law, foreign aid, sporting and cultural initiatives can all play their part.

We did not defeat communism on the military battlefield.
We defeated communism in the battle of ideas.
Equally, we are today facing an enemy which ultimately will not be defeated by military force, but by moral force.
We must therefore present to the world a genuine and attractive alternative to the fanaticism of terror and dictatorship.
We must not merely be stronger than our enemy, but better than our enemy.

In short, we must be wise as well as good.
This is a struggle which requires all our might and all our conviction.
But it is a long struggle, and it also requires our intelligence, our patience, and our humility.

What's that?
Platitudes, you say?
Like the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule?
Or like Newton's Laws of Thermo-dynamics?
Simple explanations for everyday mysteries...
Not very exciting. Not glamorous. Not apt to raise the hair on the back of your neck or make you want to run out and grab a weapon.
But probably more likely to solve problems and prevent more in the future.

Yes, there is a loyal opposition. But speaking out in terms such as these in America is apt to get one branded as an appeaser, cut-and-run traitor or worse.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Back to the future with Dave.
All the remedies he describes have been tried for decades and have not been particularly successful.
The "lack of success" of the neocon
policies seems to be in the eye of the beholder.
I have watched the various debacles in the ME and am astonished that seasoned observers see no improvement in things.
Take Palestine(please),it appears to have escaped everyones notice that one elected government has been replaced, peacefully, by another elected government using the democratic process.
That this was achieved during a policy of benign neglect speaks volumes.
On the subject of loyal opposition i dont think the majority of people believe that the Democrats are disloyal merely misguided.