Ashdown was great. He stood up to these folks, whose bullying usually cowed more reasonable types like myself.
And his answers were terrific – he spoke with a clarity about Northern Ireland, Thatcher and the conflict in the Balkans. His thoroughness and conviction exposed the naivety of those revolutionaries who could always subject the powerful to a level of scrutiny that they would never have to be exposed to themselves. These were folk who usually won their arguments because they had read slightly more than their opponents. Ashdown wasn’t intimidated by this because he had visited the places about which they conjectured.
I also knew about the insides of these organisations. Behind the rhetoric of sharing, there were terrifying power games, bitter feuds and sinister mechanisms of ideological conformity.
I have been revisiting all this whilst reading Cohen’s “What’ Left”. It also came back when listening to Ashdown on Simon Mayo. Ashdown still argues for military intervention in conflict, and I think he might be right.
He comments on Tony Blair’s speech in Chicago, and the need for an interventionist foreign policy. (16 mins on the podcast)
“We could easily be deluded into reaching the wrong conclusion from Iraq and Afghanistan. Because in Iraq and Afghanistan we made every mistake it is possible to make, to make sure the thing did not succeed, but rather failed.
However, the pain of burnt fingers. Actually if you look at interventions, post the Cold War, and we’ve now been intervening on average, once every six months, under UN Security Council provision. That’s cut the number of wars in world by half, and cut the number of war deaths by much much more than half. And most of those have succeeded.
The last two, under American leadership I’m afraid, we can’t say have done, have succeeded. In the inter-dependent, and extremely dangerous world in which we are now moving I’m afraid that the capacity of the international community to intervene, in order to stop the spread of violence, and to stabilise the peace is going to be needed more, not less.”
I have pacifistic guts but like George McLeod (who said he was 51% pacifist) I sometimes waver. There are hints of this in scripture where Paul’s portrait of the idealised state in Romans 13, there is provision of the sword, which the state can use to execute justice.
I am also struck by Walter Wink’s proposal that when we think of the correct use of force, we think of the model of police, rather than army.
So for wars of intervention, I think the demand is that we do not automatically protest. They may sometimes be the least worse option. Better to lose some ideological purity and save a few thousand lives.