Conservativehomeeditorial_1Brendan Simms of the Henry Jackson Society has written an interesting article about David Cameron’s neoconservative credentials – a UK version of which appears on the Social Affairs Unit’s blog and a US-tailored version on the website of the left-liberal New Republic magazine.

Mr Simms makes bold claims for Mr Cameron and there is some good evidence for thinking that the new Tory leader does have neocon credentials:

  • He gave an excellent speech on Iraq during his leadership bid.  In that speech, as Mr Simms reminds us, he argued that the challenge of extremist Islamist terror is "at root ideological".  He also warned that appeasing Middle Eastern states amounted to appeasement.
  • He has appointed supporters of the Iraq war to the top positions in his shadow cabinet.  William Hague as Shadow Foreign Secretary and Liam Fox at Defence are the most relevant appointments but George Osborne and David Davis are also hawkish in the war on terror.  Perhaps as significant is the fact that Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a vociferous opponent of the liberation of Iraq and author of the Major government’s lamentable policy in Bosnia, is on the backbenches after being refused the job he wanted.

But there are also reasons for believing that Mr Cameron may not have fully adjusted to the realities of the 9/11 world:

  • Last week he suggested that the LibDems and Conservatives that "we’re on the same side now" over the Iraq situation: "We want to see the same things happen as quickly as possible: democracy established… security guaranteed… and our troops coming home, as quickly as possible."  In last Sunday’s The Business, Fraser Nelson reported the reaction of Tory MPs who heard Cameron declare they “are on the same side now” as the Lib Dems on the Iraq war: "There remains a large chunk of the party for whom this is the deepest of insults.  Cameron’s enemies hope their young leader is making a naïve mistake and hope to explain to him the irreconcilable differences between the Lib Dem and Conservatives on the war on terror."  The LibDems and the Tories should not be on the same page as the Liberal Democrats on Iraq.   Brendan Simms suggests that John McCain is probably the "closest match with Cameron".  I am not (yet) persuaded by that.  As reported in a recent Ten Point Briefing John McCain knows that success in Iraq probably needs more troops.  The LibDems wouldn’t support that and David Cameron hasn’t hinted at such boldness.
  • The Afghan and Iraq chapters are only the beginning of the war on terror.  What are we going to do about Iran and other rogue nations?   Military action may not be the best option on Iran but is David Cameron capable of the boldness that the post-9/11 world demands?  It is an impossible question to answer but his hesitant initial support for the war on Iraq is one concerning indicator.

Neoconservatism isn’t just about Iraq, however.  Neoconservatism is also about foreign policy idealism.  Two more of David Cameron’s positions worry me in this regard:

  • He made a great deal – during his leadership bid – about Darfur: "When the Conservative Party talks about foreign affairs it can’t just be Gibraltar and Zimbabwe.  We have got to show as much passion about Darfur and the millions of people living on less than a dollar a day in sub-Saharan African who are getting poorer while we are getting richer."  But when it came to explaining what he would do for the people of Darfur he only offered to explore the poseur multilateralism of a UN-based solution.   A real neocon would be looking beyond the UN and towards the sort of ideas put forward by Ruth Wedgewood of the US Center for Security Policy.   Professor Wedgwood has called for the UN’s mismanagement and ineffectiveness to be challenged by what she called "competitive  multilateralism".  New and existing coalitions of the willing – from NATO to the Economic Community of West African States – could be employed to undertake security and humaniarian actions that the likes of China, Russia and France will always veto.
  • Yesterday Tory defence spokesman Gerald Howarth gave a warm welcome to another big arms sale to Saudi Arabia.  I have big reservations about selling arms to a regime that is so unloved by its people and is guilty of so many human rights abuses.  Selling arms to the House of Saud is, I fear, short-sighted.  Read this if you want to know more about one of the world’s ugliest regimes.

Another big difference between Cameron and America’s conservatives is their approach to homeland security.  David Cameron is constantly emphasising civil liberties whilst George W Bush emphasises the Patriot Act.  The right balance may lie somewhere between the two.  During shadow cabinet discussions on the recent 90-days-without-trial legislation David Davis, Oliver Letwin and Liam Fox were tilting towards the most civil libertarian position.  David Willetts, George Osborne and Andrew Lansley were urging greater sensitivity towards public opinion on civil liberties.  David Cameron would do well to listen to those around him who urge a
more pre-emptive approach to protecting the public from domestic

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