Dan Hodges offers a cornucopia of bad interventionist arguments. “In the wake of Syria,” he writes, Putin “could afford to flex his military muscles with relative impunity.” Note that people who claim that our avoidance of war in Syria emboldened Putin never tell us why he would have been less able to invade Crimea were our troops stationed in Damascus. There would be no more options at our disposal. It is true that the idea that international credibility requires feats of strength makes intuitive sense but there is no evidence that for its actual validity. It offers commentators the chance to exploit old arguments.
Hodges fears that Britain is “in the grip of a…1930s-style isolationism”. Afghanistan and Iraq are now seen as regrettable and Libya is regarded as “an eccentric aberration”. After two major wars in a decade, one of which is still ongoing, a third cannot be described as an “aberration” any more than a glass of beer at the end a week in which one has twice arrived home in an ambulance after a night’s boozing could be described as an “occasional indulgence”.
What interests me more than this parade of fallacies, however, is Hodge’s conclusion. He condemns “the weakness of 2014 isolationist Britain” – the weakness, indeed, “within us all”. I presume that he exempts himself from blame – it is, instead, the supposed little Englanders who grouse about Afghanistan and the EU and are more interested in planning permission than Ukraine that he laments. His complaint joins many bitter and baffled responses to the supposed parochialism of Britons – with their unwillingness to endorse foreign wars or accept multicultural ambitions.
I will not be the kind of populist who denounces criticism of the masses. There is much to criticise. If one is about to wash one’s hands of millions, though, one needs just cause. This seems unfair, and not just as opposition to progressive policies is more than attitudinal. It is true, after all, that Britons tend to be insular; resistant to change; happiest around people like themselves and risk-averse, with a special unwillingness to take risks for strangers. Here is the punchline. This describes almost everybody. Yes, it is a general rule, and true to varying extents, but from the Swiss to Singaporeans to Spike Lee people feel safe with what they know; care about that which is close to them and are fearful of losing both. This is said to neither praise nor blame. It is simply a fact. People can defy these impulses if they so wish but it is silly to pretend that they are new, peculiar or liable to change.