For the first time, a Labour prime minister leads Britain into a major international war. What’s more, Tony Blair is being cheered on loudest by the ‘peacenik’ Guardian and ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone, while Tory MPs and the Daily Mail worry about the war. If anybody still doubts that the era of traditional right v left politics has ended, let them inspect the evidence in the craters Bomber Blair and his NATO allies have left behind in Serbia.
Some on the old left see this as a case of New Labour taking over the mantle of Thatcher-style militarism. But it is worse than that. The grim truth is that those who now wage war in the name of humanitarianism are even more dangerous than the old war parties.
Blair himself has made clear that the war against Milosevic’s Serbia ‘is no longer just a military conflict. It is a battle between Good and Evil; between civilisation and barbarity’.
In such a fundamental battle, the righteous do not feel themselves constrained in the way one might do during a mere ‘military conflict’.
Traditional right-wing militarists might have tailored their battle strategy to take account of the needs of realpolitik and diplomacy; after all, their wars were only supposed to uphold their national interests.
Blair’s war, on the other hand, is a grand mission to save humanity. And when you are running such a high-minded crusade, you need recognise no restraints on the ground. Those who proclaim that they have right on their side can do no wrong.
That is why, as they drop their cluster bombs and fire their Cruise missiles from the vantage point of the moral high ground, Blair and his ministers and generals refuse even to consider that NATO’s missions are killing people and destroying a country. They are simply ‘degrading’ the ‘killing machine’ of the evil Milosevic. Confronted with the fact that their war has caused a catastrophe in Kosovo, they insist that NATO air strikes are actually preventing a humanitarian disaster. Faced with the hard evidence of how NATO bombing raids have reduced areas of the Kosovan capital, Pristina, to rubble, they say that the Serbs must have inflicted the damage themselves.
If NATO’s Good Humanitarians believe that they are necessarily innocent of any offence, then they are equally certain that the Evil Serbs must be guilty of everything of which they have been accused. So foreign secretary Robin Cook, defence secretary George Robertson and their media mouthpieces report as fact every horror story coming out of the war zone.
And when these are proved to be untrue (as when ‘executed’ ethnic Albanian leaders turn up alive; a Pristina football stadium housing a ‘concentration camp’ of 10 000 is found to be empty; or the school where ’20 teachers were murdered in front of their pupils’ turns out to be in a village of only 200 people), they refuse to admit it. Why worry about the facts when there is always another unsubstantiated atrocity tale that can justify sending in helicopter gunships for the cause of Good?
If there is no restraint on the conduct of Blair’s humanitarian war, there can be no questioning of it either. Uncooperative BBC journalists are accused of aiding the evil Milosevic, while Serb TV is threatened with bombing unless it starts broadcasting NATO propaganda. Norman Tebbit was a champion of free speech by comparison to this.
This war is not about Kosovo. It is an out-of-control moral crusade, which Blair went into without any clear war aims; a war launched on the premise that Something Must Be Done to demonstrate how his ethical New Britain bestrides the world as a force for Good. It is a crusade which has taken on a dynamic of its own, jacking up the military stakes along with the righteous rhetoric, as the KLA is transformed from a proscribed terrorist organisation into an unofficial member of the NATO alliance, and more NATO ground troops are sent to the region – purely for humanitarian purposes, of course.
Through all this, the loudest criticism which Bomber Blair has had to cope with from most of the erstwhile peace lobby is that NATO should make more war against Serbia, not less. The crusading journalists, actors and others of the liberal left are now getting what they have demanded for much of the past decade – a humanitarian Jihad against the Serbs. In their certainty that NATO is on the side of the angels, they insist that still more ruthless intervention is the only solution for Kosovo.
Yet a rational look back at the trouble that has afflicted the former Yugoslavia through the 1990s would surely draw the opposite conclusion.
Since 1991, outside intervention has done nothing but exacerbate, inflame and perpetuate the conflicts across all of the former Yugoslav republics. Kosovo is the last act of a Yugoslav tragedy made in the West.
Those who want to ignore that lesson, and insist instead that they have a moral responsibility to do ‘something’ over Kosovo, might like to note Noam Chomsky’s recent evocation of the Hippocratic principle: ‘First, do no harm.’
But then, humanitarian NATO air strikes don’t do any harm, do they?