Monday, August 07, 2006

the rehabilitation of Jack the lad

Can Jackie Ashley possibly be right in the reasoning she posits for Jack Straw getting shunted out of the FCO in favour of Margaret Beckett? It sounds rather unlikely, but you never know, and as much as I can't forgive Straw for his involvement in the disasterous Iraq war, it's very difficult to disagree with the thrust of Ashley's argument - that he was quietly developing an independent, rational and constructive foreign policy drive. Beckett has been an ineffectual bystander so far, in comparison.

Ashley writes:

"The depth of the stupidity shown by the White House and by No 10 is caricatured in the story that Jack Straw was fired as foreign secretary after Condoleezza Rice visited Blackburn and reported back to Bush on the strength of Muslim feeling in Straw's constituency. Put to one side the grotesque affront to British status implied by an American president being able to sack cabinet members by proxy (which Downing Street will doubtless deny) and ask this question: what kind of mind thinks the presence of angry Muslims in his constituency would hamper Straw's diplomacy, rather than sharpen it?

The kind of mind, presumably, that thinks Muslims are generally bad and rejects the battle of ideas in favour of battle. Straw was reaching out to Tehran. He said that nuking them was "nuts". He was, modestly, adopting a rhetoric which was not simply Washington's "Israel good, Palestinians bad" tone. Despite his involvement in the Iraq decision, he was trying to find a middle way. He knew he had to, because like most of us he lives among ordinary, non-extreme Muslims - drawn in some ways to western society, and currently infuriated and despairing. One day even the Americans will have to follow him, or we are all off to hell in a handcart."


Bloggers4Labour said...

I can't comment on the "story", and No. 10 can't either - because they "would" say whatever it was they were going to say - but Jackie's piece is an excellent advert for the blogosphere and against the MSM. It's absolute guff - sanctimonious, unsubstantiated, and begging to be mercilessly fisked. I mean, '"Israel good, Palestinians bad" tone' - haven't we got past believing to be Palestinian is to be a poor, tragic victim under the thumb of the evil, etc.?

jonathan said...

Hi Andrew,

If you take her points one by one I'd be interested to know which you disagree with... She makes the following statements, and only 10, 11 and 13 look in any way contentious to me (with the quote you pull out the obvious one):

1. Neither Hizbullah nor the Iraqi Shia movements, nor Iran are underdogs worthy of our support.
2. Fundamentalist Islam and its attitude towards women, homosexuality and jews is not something which any liberal would support.
3. Hizbullah is neither genial nor moderate and aims to create a 'little Iran on the Mediterranean'.
4. Liberals should not shrug their shoulders and condone fanaticism.
5. Blair could not have predicted how badly the war in Iraq would have gone. But on the other hand, there's no point pretending that it has gone well.
6. Military endeavours in the Middle East have hardened anti-Western sentiment in the Islamic world - as evidenced by tonight's excellent Jon Snow documentary, 'What Muslims Want'.
7. Israel's democratic and liberal society is preferable in a human rights context in almost every way to the societies which surround it.
8. Yet their consistently aggressive actions against Palestinians and now the Lebanese people have - just like the US and the UK's actions in Iraq - helped to radicalise Muslims and in the process help create "a new suicide bomber, a new resistance fighter and a new potential terrorist".
9. An MP is better equipped to understand the feelings of ordinary Muslims if he or she has practical experience of them and has connections with the Muslim community.
10. Jack Straw's policy of keeping diplomatic channels open with Tehran and his determination to speak his mind stood him in good stead as a Foreign Secretary.
11. The current US administration pursues an 'Israel good, Palestinians bad' line.
12. A ceasefire is badly needed, and when it has happened we need to make sure that Lebanon is given the necessary support to rebuild.
13. Given Britain's low standing in International affairs, we might be better off allowing other countries to lead negotiations, in the interest of achieving a lasting peace as soon as possible.
14. Confident, better societies are essential to enable us to better explain our ideas and engage with those who disagree with them constructively.

I fully agree that Ashley's caricature of 'Israel Good...' is simplistic and emotional. And yet it is, isn't it, undeniably true that the current American administration has - and much to Tony Blair's frustration, I gather - failed to engage with the Israeli/Palestinian roadmap. It has not used it's influence with Israel to attempt to leverage peace and it has failed to condemn acts by Israel towards the occupants of the Gaza Strip or the West Bank which are pretty much universally acknowledged as aggressive and invasive.

Obviously the Israeli state is not in any sense 'evil', assuming for a minute that such a silly word could be applied, and nor are the Arab states surrounding Israel 'good'. But then Jackie Ashley isn't saying either of those things anyway, is she?