The headline of this post – or something very like it – appeared on the front page of The Guardian, earlier this week.  ‘Neither the guts to rule nor the guts to quit’ captures the current policy of Bush and Blair in Iraq.  We’re caught in some sort of no-man’s land between doing something to reverse the escalating violence (partition and/ or extra troops, for example, as recommended by John McCain) or we should admit that we were never serious about Iraq and bring our troops home.

In today’s Philip Geddes Memorial Lecture Matthew d’Ancona attempts to remind us all of the nature of our enemy – 20th century Islamic terrorism:

"At its heart is a terrible mutation of a great world religion: a ferocious system of ideas that seeks theocracy at any price, regards mass murder as divinely ordained and wills not only the destruction of Israel but the overthrow of modern Western society. As V.S. Naipaul warned before 9/11, in some parts of the world, “religion has been tuned by some into a kind of nihilism” by people who “are enraged at the world and wish to pull it down”. By definition, those who adhere to such ideas cannot be appeased."

D’Ancona goes on to argue that increasingly consumerist western democracies lack both the patience and resolve to see that our enemy has guessed that we don’t have the stomach for the long fight that is necessary for victory.  Here are some key extracts of the speech:

The time-frame of our enemy: "I was told
recently by a source who has had access to intercepted secret Hamas
documents, that they deal in timeframes of 50 and 100 years, measuring
their objectives in generations, not months or years."

The time-frame of the western democracies: "That
phrase [eye-catching initiatives], you will recall, was first used in
the hideously embarrassing Blair memo leaked six years ago. That was a
gruesome insight into the overwhelmingly tactical nature of much that
modern Government does – its quest for what Bill Clinton’s former
pollster, Dick Morris, calls the “daily mandate”… Truly, we now live
in Warhol’s world: it is no longer just people who enjoy 15 minutes of
fame, but Government initiatives, too."

The danger of a consumerist attitude to foreign policy: "Niall Ferguson has written brilliantly of the “American attention deficit”. I would go further and contend that citizenship and consumerism are now merging to the point that they are almost co-terminous. In our construction of narratives, we are used to the instant solutions of Hollywood, its distinctive grammar in which an answer is always found in 90 minutes. In our economic behaviour, we expect value for money, instantly. Nowadays, if you buy something and it doesn’t work, you take it back to the shop. If a website fails to deliver goods quickly enough, you don’t use it again. We are instinctively querulous rather than deferential. To borrow the distinction made famous by the American social scientist, Albert O. Hirschman, we are moving away from a culture of “voice and loyalty” to one of “exit”: when something does not work, we don’t stick around and complain. We just dump it… A foreign policy is not a retail product. A geopolitical strategy is not a consumer durable that you return in disgust immediately if it does not work straight away. This is the wrong model, the model in which there are only two options: instant gratification or instant rejection. The whole point of a strategy – perhaps its defining characteristic – is that you stick to it in spite of tactical setbacks. And this is an intrinsically difficult concept for which to argue at this point in Western history."

The war on terror is a long, grinding conflict: "As General Sir Rupert Smith argues in his masterpiece, The Utility of Force, modern conflicts are not trials of strength but battles of will. They are fought, as he puts it, “amongst the people.” As a result, he concludes, war in our time will tend to be “timeless” and open-ended, an ongoing activity of the state quite unlike the old industrial wars in which the whole of a society or state were subjugated to a single cause. Smith predicts long, grinding conflicts, in which the model is Cyprus, the Balkans or Northern Ireland rather than the Second World War or even the Falklands… In effect, the coalition’s policy in Iraq is now being treated in the media as if it were a listed FTSE company whose shares were in freefall as the customers – that is, Western publics – turned their back on the product. The model is wrong because – if we must stick with the market metaphor – the customer in this case is not only the Western voter. At the risk of sounding portentous, most of the customers are as yet unborn. The decisions that we takand do not take now in this struggle will affect the world for generations."

The speech is worth reading in full: Download Matthew_d’Ancona’s_Geddes_Speech.pdf.  It’s a shame that our frontbench isn’t making speeches like this – leading public opinion and increasing understanding of the nature of this ‘age of terror’.

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