TONY BLAIR’S LEGACY
I confess I have not yet finished reading Anthony Seldon’s intriguing biography of Tony Blair, ably reviewed in your most recent issue by Lewis Allan (Trinity 2005). I would like to venture one comment, however, to those who seem intent on discounting Blair’s achievements with snide snickerings as to the paucity of any ‘legacy’.
Effective leadership in politics, especially in our mass-market, television age, is a fundamental prerequisite. This rings true even more so for parties attempting to flush long-standing, ‘natural’ governing parties from power. Ask the Conservatives in Canada—relegated to opposition status for 55 of the last 70 years. Ask the Democrats in Washington—who failed dramatically last November against one of the most vulnerable incumbents in American history. Ask the Federal Australian Labor party, out of power since 1996 and now reduced to recycling a former leader, Kim Beazley. They all lack a competent, charismatic standard-bearer in the Blairite mould to restore their side to government.
So dispute the meaning and extent of his legacy, by all means. Smile sardonically at his growing lame duck status. But do not discount the realignment in the British political landscape since Blair took over as Labour leader in 1994. There is legacy enough in that.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
(formerly of St. Hugh’s College, Oxford)
THE ETHICS OF US NATION BUILDING
Dominik Zaum raises a number of important practical challenges confronting nation builders in his thoughtful review of Noah Feldman’s book (Trinity 2005). Most notably, Mr Zaum finds Feldman’s central ethical constraint on American nation building—that US objectives and means must at all times coincide with those of the Iraqi people—‘politically unconvincing’ given the pressures of geopolitical necessity. While this issue cannot be dismissed lightly, given the US record of subordinating moral principle to perceived national interest, Mr Zaum fails to show that Feldman’s ethical arguments ‘are full of problems.’
What is different about Feldman’s liberal internationalist view of nation building is the unity of ideals and interests it implies. The point is that America’s vital security interest now is the promotion of liberal democracy in the Middle East and other countries where the US has supported authoritarian regimes in the past.
Yes, there will continue to be double standards and conflicts between short-term US anti-terrorist tactics and the long-term American goal of spreading democracy, as the US cooperation with Afghan warlords in the fight against Al-Qaeda shows. But Feldman’s argument about the overarching coincidence of interests holds up. Whenever the US undermines principles of democratic trusteeship in the course of nation building, it is sowing seeds of resentment and jeopardizing its own security.
Trinity College, Oxford
NOAM CHOMSKY’S POLITICS
I read with interest Michel Paradis’s recent review of Government in the Future (Trinity 2005). As Mr Paradis notes, despite the frailty of Chomsky’s proposals for future governance, he remains an extraordinarily influential figure, clearly demonstrated by his recent selection as ‘the world’s number one public intellectual’ in a poll conducted by Prospect.
The key to Chomsky’s popular appeal appears to lie in his ‘paired examples’ technique, in which he describes a pair of foreign policy situations that are objectively very similar but where the reaction of the West has been profoundly different: say, the treatment of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein versus their treatment by the Turkish government, an ally and a member of NATO. If our governments follow a principled foreign policy, as they claim, they should react in the same way to the same situation. That they do not discredits their claims and points to hidden motives.
Chomsky’s credibility stems from this contrast between his own apparently relentless consistency and the apparent hypocrisy of the Western establishment. Any challenge to Chomsky must begin by pointing out the inconsistencies in his position, as Mr Paradis does, but must also be prepared to give an account of Western foreign policy that answers the accusations Chomsky has put so forcefully. Namely, the world is a far more uncertain place than Chomsky and his followers would like to admit, and even statesmen with the best of intentions will sometimes have no option but to choose between evils.
Nuffield College, Oxford