David Cameron “...as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place”
These were the words of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on a visit to Pakistan yesterday.
It is one thing to seek to strengthen diplomatic relations or to forge trade deals with foreign nations in pursuit of the national interest. But it is quite another to denigrate or defame one’s own country and detract from its historic achievements in order to bolster those diplomatic and trade objectives.
This story is covered by The Daily Mail and by The Daily Telegraph. It may appear elsewhere, but it is not worth seeking out. The Mail is typically myopic and histrionic, denouncing a package worth £650million for the education of young Pakistanis as though it were a total waste of money. Pakistan faces an existential threat: it is sliding inexorably towards civil war with a growing internal Islamist threat. It is widely known that Pakistan exports its terrorist cells to the UK, and there is no better antidote to this than a good education. Ergo, the package is in the British national interest.
But the Prime Minister disparages the memory of many greater men than he when he denounces the whole history of British foreign policy by condensing it into one trite sound-bite. Whilst His Grace is by no means naive when it comes to the folly of some past colonial pursuits, the good considerably outweighs the bad. Yet perhaps that is not what is taught by the history masters at Eton College or the university dons of Oxford.
What irks His Grace the most is the use of ‘many’: had the Prime Minister said ‘some’, it would have been an unspecified small number and undeniably accurate. But ‘many’ is great in number and moves nearer to ‘most’: indeed, it connotes something of a majority, which merits a little scrutiny. Just what are these ‘many’ problems in the world for which England or the United Kingdom is ‘responsible’?
The Kashmir conflict?
The demands for partition were driven by Mohammad Ali Jinnah: his fervent (and unswerving) desire as India moved towards independence was for a Muslim state, independent of the prevailing Hindu/Sikh majority. Britain’s Viscount Radcliffe certainly drew up the borders, but they were not imposed upon either side: there was consensus and agreement, diplomatically guided by Viscount Mountbatten. What should we have done otherwise? Deny Jinnah his independent Islamic state? Would that not have caused India to descend into a bloody civil war, with thousands if not millions slaughtered? Was not partition the lesser evil?
Perhaps the Prime Minister refers also to the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland?
This chronic religio-political conflict is murky and complex (as are all these 'issues'). But what alternative was there to partition? Should we have placed the Protestant-Unionist minority of Ireland at the mercy of the Catholic-Nationalist majority in a united Catholic state, for the potato famine and the slaughter of Smerwick to be perpetually re-enacted with roles reversed? Was not partition the lesser evil?
The creation of Iraq?
Certainly, the UK administered the demise of the Ottoman Empire, but so did France and Italy. The decision was taken to impose a Hashimite monarchy upon disparate ethnic and religious groups. While TE Lawrence may have protested, the alternative would have been to have left the region to decades of internecine conflict between Sunni, Shi’a and Kurd, in which, again, millions would have died. The settlement was not perfect, and ultimately, of course, it led to the rise of Saddam Hussein. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The creation of the state of Israel?
Israel has been in and out of occupation since the 6th century BC, when the dispersal of Jews beyond their nation’s borders first began. By the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70, the number forcibly dispersed exceeded those who lived in Israel. Out of World War II, in which it is estimated that some six million Jews were systematically tortured, murdered and incinerated, Lord Balfour’s declaration of 1917 which led to the creation of the state of Israel gave the Diaspora their much longed-for homeland. The mandate to do so was handed to Great Britain by the League of Nations. What otherwise should we have done? Leave the Jews weeping by the rivers of Babylon, dreaming of Zion? Was not the creation of Israel the lesser evil?
There are doubtless many other 'world problems' for which Britain is ‘responsible’, and the thread below is open for informed and educated debate on these matters. But one thing is certain to His Grace: England and more recently the United Kingdom have been an undoubted force for good in the world. No patriotic prime minister would be so careless as to give the impression to a foreign people in foreign lands that our history is shameful, our Empire a cause of regret, or that our foreign policy has been an unmitigated disaster.