David Cameron is receiving conflicting advice on relations with America. The anti-war Peter Oborne thinks that drawing closer to Bush’s America is a big error on Cameron’s part. He writes this in The Spectator:
"David Cameron has ruthlessly dumped Tory baggage on almost every pressing issue: tax, the economy, the environment, health, education, welfare, the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. There is, however, one exception. On foreign policy he has moved surprisingly sharply to the Right. In Europe he has broken with the centrist EPP and placed Conservatives uncomfortably alongside a miscellaneous collection on the semi-fascist fringe. More notable still, David Cameron’s Tory party is moving fast to improve links with the White House and the Republican party."
If Mr Oborne is worried that Mr Cameron is too neoconservative, other observers are concerned that the Tory leader may be ditching his hawkish credentials. A previous enthusiast for Mr Cameron’s neoconservatism – Brendan Simms – has turned distinctly cooler. In a blog (for the Social Affairs Unit) Mr Simms worries about the appointment of "Pauline Neville Chamberlain" to chair the security policy group (a worry shared by this blog). Simms writes:
"Dame Pauline is closely connected with the failed "realist" policies of Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind in the Major government. As Political Director of the Foreign Office, and a classic realist, she was strongly opposed to intervention against Serb aggression in Bosnia. After the war, Dame Pauline represented Natwest Markets in the negotiations with the Yugoslav leader Milosevic over the privatisation of Serbian utilities. The ethical implications of this move, much discussed at the time and since, are neither here nor there; what is worrying is the flawed judgment that Milosevic was a reliable partner to do business with. Scarcely eighteen months later, we went to war with him over the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo."
In terms of rebuilding links with America Mr Simms recommends that Mr Cameron invests in the mainstream voices of American politics:
"Mr Cameron should seek alliances with the vast middle ground in American politics which supports the principles underlying the removal of Saddam Hussein, but is in no doubt about the shortcomings of the administration which effected it. A major speech at, say, the National Endowment for Democracy, where many have received Cameron’s Foreign Policy Centre speech with enthusiasm, would send an unambiguous signal. It would enable him to set out his stall not only on the other side of the Atlantic, but on both sides of the partisan divide as well. Men such as John McCain, who will certainly be a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008, and the senior Democrats Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman are Mr Cameron’s natural allies."
Mr Oborne seems a bit behind the times. The anti-Americanism that once kept the likes of Schroeder in power looks distinctly out-of-date. The Daily Mail and other Michael Moore Conservatives once hoped that the defeat of José María Aznar in Spain would be the first domino to fall in the ‘Iraq coalition of the willing’. It didn’t happen. John Howard was re-elected. Then Bush himself. Then Blair. Then Koizumi. The White House has taken great pleasure in this week’s defeat of Paul Martin (who ran a virulently anti-American campaign) and the arrival of Angela Merkel. Washington’s Republicans hope that the days of opportunistic politicians exploiting the difficulties in Iraq are nearly over. Mr Cameron should ignore Mr Oborne’s latest piece of advice but Mr Simms’ suggestion of building bridges to a broad cross-section of US political leaders is wise counsel.