Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Empire Strikes Back

What the Iraq war enquiry highlights is a country in a state of desperation, desperate to define an international character amid the emergence of a new international landscape and the decline of empire. Britain is still living in the shadow of the grandeur of empire, there is still a tangible sense that we as a nation are unwilling to be bandied along with the rest of Europe when only sixty years ago we possessed a worlds upon which the sun never set. This unwillingness to be defined as European is manifesting itself in a sort of neo-imperialism, an attempt to re-assert ourselves as a global player.

But it cant go on for ever, at the moment we are aligning ourselves politically with America and economically with Europe. However, to have any economic power within Europe we are going to have to become more politically involved and that is going to mean less hanging around with the USA, because they get us into a lot trouble with the European bigwigs, like the court of human rights and NATO, all that lot. But, as Europe becomes a more cohesive whole we will inevitably lose clout, the problem is that as a nation we still have the impression that we are an international power, and refuse to let go of those memories of exotic riches.

Now, I don't personally think it is a bad thing seeing ourselves as superior and separate from the other EU member states, lets face it we have a rich and iconic history, we have produced some of the finest minds and greatest technologies the world had to offer and the only thing we lost to the Germans in World War Two were the Channel Islands. See, even I'm doing it.

The problem is that post WW2 mainland Europe underwent drastic and revolutionary changes, the countries that had been occupied became liberated and many became instantly re-occupied. Europe had to reorganise into a solid power block in order to avoid a repeat performance of the the previous 50 years of instability and war and to battle the bigger and badder threat of the USSR. The UK was somewhat removed from this, we hadn't been occupied, we had actually liberated Europe, fighting side by side with the Americans. As a result we didn't undergo big democratic and political changes so couldn't share in that fraternity. On top of all of that we still had a large empire that was intact although fraying at the edges, so were effectively still a world power.

This is where national pride was most deeply rooted, but colonialism was not chic any more, the total destruction of Europe in the name of imperialism and the brutality that the soviet regime was unleashing on the eastern bloc threw Britain's empire into question. So as the heroic liberators of Europe we slowly liberated the colonies with all the pomp and pretension with which we ruled them. However, this cost the nation its power and prestige and its a problem we are still addressing to this day.

There have been three specific occasions where Britain's desire for empire has crocked up and bucked the trend of decolonisation since the second world war, the first was the Suez crisis in 1956 which was a humiliating debacle and highlighted the decline in international prestige that the country was facing. However, a gift horse in the form of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland islands in 1982 gave us a chance to shine once again and showed the world that although we had very little left to fight for we would still fight for it. The publicity and popularity this bought to an ailing thatcher meant that every PM has sought their own Falklands to unite the country through militaristic and imperial pride in an overwhelming atmosphere of deline.

Iraq was the third occasion and what may colourfully be referred to as 'a complete fuck up'. Iraq was Blair's Falklands, except it didn't make him more popular, it wasn't an example of fine British military tactics, it definitely wasn't a success and rather than improving the flagging reputation of a once great nation is has actually made us look like the United States lap dog. These are indeed unfortunate times.

So, what the Iraq inquiry will unearth more than anything else is that whilst Blair made some bad decisions he did so in the pursuit of international stature, much like Churchill of the 1950s, Churchill mark-two. Blair managed to badly mix two elements of British political history, imperialism and the 'special relationship' and has come out with a bastard child world where Alistair Campbell still thinks Blair is the Prime Minister and a Britain is hated by Europe, not for being too British but for being too American.


1 comment:

  1. Another interesting and insightful read.