New Imperialism, Old Justifications

The old imperialism, backed up by an old set of racist justifications, is back in fashion.

By Stephen Gowans

British politicians say Britons must stop apologizing, and start celebrating, their imperial past. Conservative historians say Africa was better off under British rule. Top political advisors promote renewed colonialism as a solution to Africa’s problems. Journalists write nostalgically about “the lost paradise of the big white chief” (Rhodesia’s Ian Smith) and point to the descent of Zimbabwe into economic chaos as a cautionary tale about what happens when enlightened white administration is ceded to benighted, corrupt natives.

“Barely a generation after the ignominious end of the British empire,” observes Guardian columnist Seamus Milne, “there is now a quiet but concerted drive to rehabilitate it, by influential newspapers, conservative academics, and at the highest level of government.” (1)

Why has the drive occurred?

One reason is that intervention in other countries is now more of a possibility than it was three decades ago when the Soviet Union was still around. Jonathan Powell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s longtime chief of staff, argues that Britain should not fear to intervene in Zimbabwe and Myanmar to defend “our interests” and promote “our values” because “intervening in another country no longer risks tipping the two superpowers into global war, because there is only one superpower.” (2)

The other reason is because the structural compulsion to exploit other countries economically has never gone away.

With the compulsion still there, and a major deterrent to exercising it gone, an ideology is needed to justify it.

The Ideology

“In the Ancient world, order meant empire,” observes the man who served as Blair’s foreign policy guru, Robert Cooper. “Those within the empire had order, culture and civilization. Outside it lay barbarians, chaos and disorder.” (3)

Today chaos is found in what Cooper classifies as “pre-modern states” — “often former colonies – whose failures have led to a Hobbesian war of all against all.” (4)

Writer Peter Godwin thinks the chaos in pre-modern states is attributable to Britain abandoning its colonies. “The disengagement from Africa was irresponsible,” he writes. It was “little more than a hasty jettisoning of colonies, however ill-prepared they were for self-rule, and a virtual guarantee that they would fail as autonomous states.” (5)

British historian Andrew Roberts echoes Godwin’s reasoning. “Africa,” he says, “has never known better times than during British rule.” (6)

Top politicians also seem to agree. Gordon Brown sprang to the defense of Britain’s colonial record in Africa after South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki justifiably complained about British imperialists “doing terrible things wherever they went.” Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer, used a trip to former British colony Tanzania to declare that “the days of Britain having to apologize for its colonial history are over,” and that “we should celebrate much of our past, rather than apologize for it.” (7)

Godwin points specifically to Zimbabwe to make the case that Africa was better off under white rule. “The terrible situation in Zimbabwe,” he writes, “today conforms in many ways to the worst of everything Ian Smith had feared of black majority rule, and is the very specter that inspired him to fight so hard to prevent it.” (8)

The Telegraph’s Graham Boynton seconds Godwin’s point, arguing that Ian Smith, who said blacks could never rule themselves successfully, “has sadly been proved right.” (9)

“Today, Zimbabwe is a failed state with a non-functioning economy, a once flourishing agricultural sector now moribund, and a population on the brink of starvation….So much for liberation.” (10)

If Boynton and his empire-nostalgics are to be believed, the natives can’t be trusted to run their own affairs. But there are many other places bedeviled by war, poverty, misery and chaos that are never pointed to as crying “out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets,” as former Wall St. Journal editor, Max Boot, once put it. (11)

One such troubled land is Ethiopia. Its army invaded Somalia, contrary to the UN Charter (a crime on par with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait), and is fighting an anti-insurgency war in the Ogaden region of the country that has provoked a humanitarian disaster. The country’s leader, Meles Zenawi, jails political opponents, threatens them with the death sentence, limits press freedom, and has been accused of rigging elections.

Ethiopia sounds like one of Cooper’s pre-modern states, complete with a Hobbesian war of all against all raging within its bosom. But Ethiopia — which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid from the US and Britain — is not on the empire-nostalgics’ radar screen. Could it be that the “failed” states empire-boosters say need to be brought under the wing of enlightened Western rule are simply states that aren’t doing the West’s bidding? Is it chaos, or independence, that’s the problem?

Iraq, too, is a troubled land, one for which the idea of a Hobbesian war of all against all seems especially fitting. And yet chaos in Iraq is a product of the “enlightened” Western rule people like Max Boot call for.

The Solution

“The most logical way to deal with chaos, and the one employed most often in the past, is colonization,” writes Cooper boldly. Today, colonialism needs to be practiced as “a new kind of imperialism…an imperialism which aims to bring order and organization.” (12)

Cooper sets out his case in an article titled “Why we still need empires.”

“The postmodern world has to start to get used to double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But, when dealing with old-fashioned states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert of the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.” (13)

That the rougher methods of an earlier era have already been deployed against Zimbabwe is fairly obvious. The US, Britain and other “postmodern” states organize, fund and provide support to civil society groups within and outside Zimbabwe to bring down the Mugabe government. In place of the current government, Britain seeks a new government willing to accommodate “our values” and “our interests.”

As prime minister, Tony Blair even went so far as to privately argue for an invasion of Zimbabwe, but the head of the armed forces, General Sir Charles Guthrie, counseled Blair against it. You’d lose too many African allies, he warned. (14)

The Nazi Theory of International Relations

While Cooper seeks to give a pleasing gloss to his “we still need empires” view, it is at odds with the foundations of post-war international law. More than that, it is tantamount to the Nazi’s theory of international relations.

The Nuremberg Tribunal’s affirmation “of national sovereignty as the cornerstone of the international system…stood in marked contrast to the political philosophy of the Nazis, who had treated the concept of state sovereignty with contempt,” explains John Laughland.

Any state that intends to intervene in the affairs of other states for the purpose of dominating them will, naturally, express contempt for national sovereignty. This, NATO, and other “postmodern” states, began to do so in the run up to the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia – and have been doing so since.

“One can say,” adds Laughland, “that the commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of states…is an attempt to institutionalize an anti-fascist theory of international relations.” (15) By the same token, an attempt to establish a justification for forcibly re-imposing colonial domination on independent Third World countries is an attempt to revivify a Nazi theory.

If you’re going to knock down the doors of other countries, you have to find some pretty reasons for doing so. People like Cooper, Roberts, Max Boot in the US, and liberals like Michael Ignatieff, are only too happy to supply the justification.

Our Interests and Values?

The imperial ideologues always eventually get around to pinning the necessity of the new imperialism on the pursuit of “our interests” and “our values,” implying that the interests of everyone in the West are common and that our values (also assumed to be homogeneous) have something vaguely to do with human rights. But are the interests of a bus driver in Liverpool the same as those of a London investment banker who collects board appointments? Which of these two has the greatest chance of shaping British foreign policy?

In a certain sense it is true that we all share interests in common. We share an interest in being free from violence. Pro-imperial ideologues cite this interest to justify the unapologetic resurrection of open imperialism. Unless we bring the war to them, they’ll bring the war to us. Unless we impose order, chaos will spread.

This is a good argument, if you’re trying to sell a Nazi theory of international relations. But it’s more likely that “our interests” and “our values” refer to the interests and values of the economic class that has a firm grip on the media and state. It’s not our interests and values that are being pursued, but theirs.

Investors, financial houses and corporations – tied to the media, universities and state in a thousand different ways — suck mountains of profits out of Third World countries. They have an interest in a muscular foreign policy to safeguard their investments and to open doors that have been closed by communist, socialist and economic nationalist governments that pursue social improvement, rather than foreign investment-friendly, objectives. Is it any surprise, then, that the media, conservative academics and state officials are rehabilitating colonialism?

In an article on Ian Smith in the Sunday Times, RW Johnson draws an invidious comparison between Smith’s Rhodesia and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Smith, he tells us, had “run the country and economy surprisingly well in the face of tough international sanctions,” unlike Mugabe, who has presided over an economy that has faltered under the weight of sanctions.

When “Mugabe gained power in 1980, Smith…rolled up every day at Government House to offer his help” and “Mugabe was delighted to accept” it. Significantly, “the two men worked happily together for some time, until one day Mugabe announced plans for sweeping nationalization. Smith told him bluntly he thought this a mistake. Their cooperation ended on the spot.” (16) And Zimbabwe, we’re to believe, from that point forward, began its descent into economic chaos.

In a certain respect, this is true. Britain, which still dominated Zimbabwe’s economy, had no truck for Mugabe’s nationalizations, and nor for his refusal to follow IMF prescriptions or his expropriation of farm land. These sins against private property — which Smith would have steered clear of — set off Britain’s resort to the rougher methods of an earlier era to push Mugabe aside. Along with its imperialist senior partner, the United States, Britain schemed to make Zimbabwe’s economy scream, hoping to galvanize Zimbabweans to throw Mugabe out of office, either at the polls or in the streets. Drought and region-wide energy shortages helped crank up the misery.

But what was the real problem? That Mugabe, as a black man, was too stupid to know how to run the country? Or that Mugabe took on white economic interests?


Politicians, journalists and academics, have launched an ideological assault to justify a new imperialism — an aggressive and expansionary foreign policy whose aim is to bring to heel countries resisting integration into the Anglo-American orbit.

Under the “enlightened” domination of the US and Britain these countries will be expected to open their doors to foreign investment, privatize state-owned enterprises, tear down tariff walls, and rescind performance requirements on foreign firms. Above all, they’ll be expected to respect the property Western investors and the decendants of white settlers lay claim to.

The assault is based on two deceptions.

The first is that that Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets once provided enlightened administration. The second is that we need (an American-led) empire to impose organization and order on chaos.

But much of the chaos in the Third World is a product of, not a reason for, Western intervention. Iraq was once a thriving modern secular state, until Anglo-American imperialism visited upon it chaos of unprecedented scope.

“We hear a lot about the rule of law, incorruptible government and economic progress, but the reality was tyranny, oppression, poverty and the unnecessary deaths of countless millions of human beings,” points out Cambridge historian Richard Drayton. (17)

And so it goes.

1. Seamus Milne, “New Labour, Old Britain,” Le Monde Diplomatique, May 2005
2. Jonathan Powell, “Why the West should not fear to intervene,” Observer, November 18, 2007
3. Robert Cooper, “Why we still need empires,” The Observer, April 7, 2002
4. Cooper
5. Peter Godwin, “If only Ian Smith had shown some imagination, then more of his people might live at peace,” The Observer, November 25, 2007
6. Quoted in Milne
7. Daily Mail, January 15, 2005
8. Godwin
9. Graham Boynton, “Ian Smith has sadly been proved right,” Telegraph, November 25, 2007
10. Ibid
11. Max Boot, “The case for American empire,” The Weekly Standard, October 15, 2001
12. Cooper
13. Ibid
14. Milne; Agence France Presse, November 21, 2007
15. John Laughland, Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice, Pluto Press, 2007, p. 66
16. RW Johnson, “Lost paradise of the big white chief”, The Sunday Times, November 25, 2007
17. Quoted in Milne

Inversion of Perspective

By Stephen Gowans

According to today’s Washington Post “nearly three weeks after (Pakistan’s President Pervez) Musharraf declared emergency rule, sacked members of the Supreme Court and began a roundup of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists” George Bush said that Musharraf “truly is somebody who believes in democracy.”

Also today, The New York Times ran an obituary of Ian Smith, the former prime minister of apartheid Rhodesia, suggesting that compared to Mugabe, Smith wasn’t such a bad fellow after all.

You’d get the impression from the Times obituary that Smith and Mugabe are cut from the same repressive cloth, only Smith (a white man) knew how to run the economy while Mugabe (a black man) doesn’t.

“Political opposition to Mr. Mugabe’s regime has been suppressed with the same zeal as Mr. Smith himself once displayed in the fight against African nationalist strivings for majority rule,” the obituary says, with a breathtaking blindness to the true nature of the Smith regime.

Smith, as prime minister of an apartheid government, jailed Mugabe, but Mugabe, as president of an independent Zimbabwe, allowed Smith to go about his business, a free man, who continued to farm freely on two estates. If Mugabe was running a black supremacist apartheid state that oppressed whites and killed those who resisted, he would have long ago been hauled before a Western war crimes tribunal and shown the hangman’s noose.

Mugabe drew attention to this when he addressed the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly in September.

“Ian Smith is responsible for the death of well over 50,000 of my people. I bear scars of his tyranny which Britain and America condoned. I meet his victims everyday. Yet he walks free. He farms free. He talks freely, associates freely under a black government. We taught him democracy. We gave him back his humanity.

“He would have faced a different fate here (in the US) and in Europe if the 50,000 he killed were Europeans. Africa has not called for a Nuremberg trial against the white world which committed heinous crimes against its own humanity.

“It has not hunted perpetrators of this genocide, many of whom live to this day, nor has it got reparations from those who offended against it. Instead, it is Africa which is in the dock, facing trial from the same world that persecuted it for centuries.”

Smith was a racist to the end and the Times obituary gave him a platform to promote the ideology of white (Western) rule over Africa from the grave.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of people who come to me and say, when you were in the chair, we thought you were too inflexible and unbending; we now see that you were right,” (about blacks being unable to manage their own affairs) he’s quoted as saying.

The obituary ends with Smith telling us that “There are millions of black people who say things were better when I was in control. I have challenged Mugabe to walk down the street with me and see who has most support. I have much better relations with black people than he does.”

When the New African magazine carried out a public opinion poll asking who the greatest Africans were, Smith’s name, not surprisingly, didn’t come up. Mugabe was ranked third, behind Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah.

So, what are we to make of this?

The West’s newspaper of record intimates that Smith and Mugabe share an equal brutality, but that the country was better off under Smith.

Musharraf truly does what Mugabe is only accused of doing, but, all the same, is rewarded with over $10 billion in US aid and is called someone who truly believes in democracy.

Musharraf (who Pakistanis call Busharraf for a reason) is acting as Washington’s strongman in Pakistan, promoting the project of Western domination. Mugabe, who would never be called Bush’s or Brown’s strongman, (except by certain leftist groups suffering from collective detachment from reality) is doing the opposite. For this crime against privileged interests in the West, he’s called the leader of a brutal regime.

It would be truly surprising if the local collaborators with Western imperialism weren’t rewarded with aid and honors, and equally surprising if fighters against Western imperialism weren’t vilified by West’s state officials and mimetic media.

Musharraf is a brutal dictator. Smith was a vile racist. Mugabe is neither of these things.

Looking For Evil In All The Wrong Places

There are dozens of US client states whose leaders fit the description “cruel dictator” who most people don’t know rig elections, jail opponents, close newspapers and start wars. On the other hand, there are a few leaders, invariably elected, who preside over governments that pursue traditional leftist goals of socialism or escape from neo-colonialism or both who many people understand incorrectly to be cruel dictators (Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Alexander Lukashenko, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Robert Mugabe.) Government officials, news media and even many leftists in the West reserve the term cruel dictator for the opponents of imperialism, while saying virtually nothing about the real dictators who defend and promote Western strategic and economic interests at the expense of their own people. This essay focuses on Robert Mugabe, one leader the West vilifies as a cruel dictator, and compares the accusations made against him with the records of such US allies as Hosni Mubarak, Meles Zenawi, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Mikheil Saakashvili and Pervez Musharraf.

By Stephen Gowans

The government of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is accused by Western governments and assorted left-wing groups of breaching the civil and political liberties of Zimbabweans and of operating a human rights horror show. Were all of the accusations against Mugabe’s government true, Harare’s actions would still pale in comparison to those of scores of other governments that imperialist powers support and the anti-Mugabe left says nothing about. While the left critics of Mugabe are vociferous in their condemnation of the Zimbabwean president, and prepared to accept uncritically all damning accusations against him, they remain virtually silent on the grave assaults on civil and political liberties carried out by US client states.

The charge sheet against Mugabe includes intimidation of political opponents, restrictions on press freedoms and electoral fraud. But there are dozens of US client states whose leaders steal elections, shut down newspapers, arrest bloggers, jail opposition leaders and ban opposition political parties. These assaults on civil and political liberties are as grave, if not graver, than anything the Mugabe government has been accused of, and yet the leaders of these governments are not widely vilified in the West (though they are in their own countries.) The point, here, is not to engage in apologetics by saying that even if we assume all the charges against Mugabe are true his actions are still minor in comparison to those of scores of other governments, but to ask why imperialist powers, their media, and assorted left-wing groups remain virtually silent on the grave human rights violations committed by scores of other governments. Why Mugabe and not Seles or Mubarak?

North Africa

Those who rail against Mugabe as Africa’s great anti-democratic Satan appear to have failed to recognize that, in every country in north Africa, Islamist opposition parties have been banned. Significantly, these parties are acknowledged to be sufficiently popular to win large parliamentary blocs, if not outright majorities. (1) While Mugabe is accused of using the state to intimidate Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, he has never banned it, though some would say as a Western-created and funded organization, Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC, ought to be banned. The MDC was cobbled together through funding provided by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the British equivalent of the US National Endowment for Democracy. The NED does overtly what the CIA used to covertly (i.e., destabilize foreign governments.) Both the Bush administration and the British government acknowledge that they are working with the opposition to bring down the Mugabe government. (2) Certainly, neither the US nor Britain would tolerate outside interference in their own electoral politics. Zimbabwe, held to a higher standard, is expected to, and does.

While Zimbabwe is sanctioned and demonized by the US, Egypt’s government, whose leader Hosni Mubarak rules with an iron fist, is showered with Washington’s largesse, and only occasionally shows up on the radar screens of the West’s anti-Mugabe left. Mubarak, and his son Gamal — who is expected to succeed his father as president, and not through means that would be considered fair in the West — are regarded by Egyptians as US lackeys. (3) Mubarak bans the Muslim Brotherhood, a party strong enough to unseat him, and by implication, to end US domination of Egypt. He also jails opposition figures, locks up bloggers who criticize him, but receives over $1 billion a year in US military aid. The US may present itself as the world’s champion of civil and political liberties, but it rewards dozens of states that severely limit formal political rights with billions of dollars in aid. In return, foreign strongmen keep their countries open to US trade and investment, carry out proxy wars on Washington’s behalf, and repress their own populations.

Late last year, Mubarak announced a full-scale retreat from the social security gains of the 50s and 60s. The socialist principles the country adopted in the 60s would be scrapped to establish conditions more favorable to the profit-making interests of US banks, corporations and investors. (4) This came in the wake of strides the government had already taken to impose neo-liberal reforms, which have seen illiteracy rise and social services crumble, in a country teeming with the poor.

The Muslim Brotherhood, banned since 1954, has moved in to fill the gaps left by the retreating state, setting up clinics, nurseries and after-school tutoring. (5) Hezbollah, in a similar way, has built support in southern Lebanon by providing social services the state won’t provide. Not surprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity has soared. Its members, running as independents, contested 161 seats in the 454 member Egyptian parliament, and won 88 of them. Mubarak countered by rounding up hundreds of party members (paralleling the Israeli practice of jailing Hamas legislators.)

The comparison with Zimbabwe is instructive. The MDC operates freely and has contested elections. But unlike the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the freely operating MDC favors a neo-liberal tyranny. This is no surprise, given the MDC’s connections to the dominant economic interests in Britain and the United States.

In September, an Egyptian “judge ordered a year’s hard labor for the editors of four leading opposition newspapers, saying they had made the ruling party, Mubarak, and his son Gamal, appear dictatorial.” (6) Had Mugabe jailed the editors of Zimbabwe’s opposition newspapers, complaining they had portrayed him as a dictator, the story would be blanketed across the Western media, state officials in the West would howl with outrage, and demands would be made for immediate intervention to turn back Mugabe’s intolerable tyranny. Soon after, three more opposition journalists were sentenced to two year prison terms for impugning Egypt’s justice system. On top of this, an Egyptian human rights organization was banned. One thousand of its members have been jailed over the past year. Perhaps all the indignation of newspaper editorial writers, Western state officials, and various left-wing groups was exhausted in denunciations of Mugabe. It certainly hasn’t been exhausted in denunciations of Mubarak.


Jordan, a centralized monarchy with a largely ceremonial parliament, jailed government critic Toujan al-Faisal for criticizing the state’s auto-insurance policies. Author Ahmad Oweidi, who wrote e-mails critical of the government, was arrested for harming the government’s reputation. (7) By comparison, the Mugabe government not only tolerates critics but also tolerates those who openly call for its forcible removal. Hajia Aminata Sow, a retired Guinean jurist attended NGO meetings in Zimbabwe at which “speaker after speaker openly advocated for forcible removal of Mugabe’s government.” She was astonished the speakers weren’t arrested. (8) The principal leaders of the opposition routinely threaten violence to drive Mugabe from office, but nevertheless remain free to continue to call for insurrection. MDC faction leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s threats began early on, and have continued since. In 2000, he told Mugabe that if he didn’t step down peacefully, “we will remove you violently.” (9) The then Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube told the London Sunday Times that he thought “it is justified for Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe.” He complained that though he was ready “to lead the people, guns blazing” nobody was willing to follow him. (10) Last Easter, the Roman Catholic Church posted messages on church bulletin boards around the country calling on Mugabe to leave office or face “open revolt.” Mugabe’s failure to step down, the Church warned, would lead to bloodshed and a mass uprising. (11) Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway MDC faction, pledged to “remove Robert Mugabe…with every tool at my disposal.” Asked what tools he was referring to, Mutambara replied, “We’re not going to rule out or in anything – the sky’s the limit.” (12) Unlike Jordanians Toujan al-Faisal and Ahmad Oweidi, who were jailed for merely criticizing their government, Tsvangairai, Ncube and Mutambara are free to issue threats to remove the Mugabe government through extra-constitutional means, to call on foreign powers to impose sanctions, and to importune a former colonial power to intervene militarily – a freedom few governments, including those in the West, are willing to grant. In light of revelations that Britain has considered attacking Zimbabwe on several occasions (13) and that the US is bankrolling opposition activities aimed at regime change (14) some measure of restriction on fifth column activities is wholly justified and is a necessary part of defending the gains of Zimbabwe’s program of breaking free of neo-colonial domination. If Mugabe is to be criticized, he should be criticized for allowing agents of imperialism too much latitude, not too little.

On top of the Jordanian government’s other affronts to civil and political liberties, it can be faulted for drawing electoral boundaries to favor rural areas in which support for pro-government parties is strong, threatening to ban election monitors, and ordering soldiers to vote for pro-government candidates. (15) Such blatant contempt for basic standards of representative democracy, displayed by the Mugabe government, would elicit howls of outrage from Whitehall and indignant editorials calling for immediate action, from an escalation of sanctions to military intervention. But Jordan, a US ally, can practice a tyranny that exceeds anything Mugabe is accused of, without comment. George Bush calls Mugabe’s government “a brutal regime.” (16) Washington’s March 2006 National Security Strategy refers to Zimbabwe as a “stronghold of tyranny.” Jordan, which fits these categories, is called neither of these things.

The Philippines

In the Philippines another US ally, president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is waging an all-out war against communist militants. Karapatan, a Philippines human rights organization, has documented 900 cases of extra-judicial killings, in which the Philippine military has hunted down militants and summarily executed them. Human Rights Watch complains that in failing to prosecute members of the military implicated in the killings, Arroyo has failed to uphold international law. But the larger crime lies in the fact that an all-out war (i.e., one outside the rule of law) is being waged to eliminate a militant opposition. (17) Dispatching the military to take out members of a political opposition, even if it is a militant one, would be loudly decried as a heinous crime, meriting military intervention on humanitarian grounds, if undertaken by a leader of a country resisting imperialist domination. Were the Zimbabwean military to hunt down MDC militants for summary execution, there would be no end to the incensed cries for justice from the West. It’s no so outlandish to suggest a war crimes tribunal would be established, and the accused dragged before the court. Arroyo, however, can hunt down and exterminate as many militant opponents as she likes, with little fear anyone in the West will notice, and even less fear of being dragged before a tribunal. Tribunals are reserved for leaders who resist imperial domination, not accept, welcome and promote it.

In Zimbabwe, “there are frequent calls by the opposition party and its allied trade unions for street protests. Once, in what they termed as the ‘Final Push’, the opposition called for a march on the State House, the seat of government, for its overthrow. No government folds its arms in the face of such provocations. And when the police are used to restore law and order, it becomes a human rights violation.” (18) That is, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere outside the US imperial orbit. Inside, it becomes a justified police action to restore law and order.

The Mugabe government was roundly criticized earlier this year for a crackdown on demonstrators, especially when police beat Morgan Tsvangirai, who had tried to force his way past police lines into a police station. Demonstrations had been banned in the wake of several fire-bombing incidents, but the opposition chose to defy the ban. When the police moved in to disperse demonstrators, the opposition, predictably, cried foul, and the Western media, NGOs (funded by Western governments), opposition newspapers, and Western state officials echoed the cry.

Not too many weeks later, 900 German police officers swept down on 40 sites in half a dozen German cities in a “show of force against potentially violent demonstrators” who were planning to protest outside the G8 summit. German authorities said they were investigating 18 people they believed were planning fire-bombings. (19) Although clearly intended to intimidate a civil opposition movement, no hue and cry was raised at the heavy-handed tactics of the German police. The protests that accompanied the actions of Zimbabwe’s authorities were, however, deafening, even though actual, and not anticipated, fire-bombings had occurred in Zimbabwe. A show of force by 900 Zimbabwean police swooping down on hundreds of MDC activists to prevent possible fire-bombings would have been denounced by state officials, journalists and various left groups in the West as blatant political intimidation, the work of a strongman. The German incident passed virtually unnoticed.

Ethiopia and Somalia

The Meles government of Ethiopia receives hundreds of millions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid from the US and Britain. These injections have been used to build one of the largest and strongest armies in Africa, which stands ready to be deployed to enlarge and defend US and British economic and strategic interests in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian forces invaded neighboring Somalia late last year at the behest of US officials, a blatant violation of international law on par with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, for which Ethiopia has not been censured at the UN, bombed by a coalition of the willing, or sanctioned by the international community. No one has denounced Meles as a strongman, said the world would be a better place without him, or deplored the humanitarian disaster the invasion has touched off. An estimated 850,000 Somalis have been displaced, almost one-tenth of the population. (20) The New York Times acknowledges that “the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa may not be unfolding in Darfur” but in Somalia. (21) The head of the United Nations humanitarian operations in Somalia complains that “if this were happening in Darfur, there would be a big fuss.” (22) But it’s not happening in Darfur, it’s happening in Somalia, as a result of an illegal invasion undertaken by Ethiopia, assisted by US military forces, and at the request of the United States. It’s for this reason there has been no big fuss. Washington had pushed for the invasion to oust a popular Islamist government Somalis had embraced and to restore the rule of the unpopular US-backed government that US firms had been planning undercover missions to support, with the full knowledge of the CIA. (23) For doing the West’s bidding in this and other ways, the murderous Meles was handpicked by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to sit on Britain’s Commission for Africa, to lead the “African renaissance.”

Meles’ repugnant behavior goes further than this. Following Ethiopia’s May 2005 general election, which the opposition claimed was rigged, Ethiopian authorities opened fire on protesters, killing 193 people. Thousands of opposition supporters and leaders were rounded up and jailed. Meles asked that the death penalty be imposed on 38 opposition leaders, including the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a former UN war crimes prosecutor and the mayor-elect of Addis Ababa. The court rejected Meles’ request, but imposed life sentences (overturned after the US, embarrassed by its client’s actions, intervened.)

Meles is all that Mugabe is accused of being, and more. He’s a strongman who rigs elections, and then beats, shoots at, jails and threatens to execute the opposition when it protests. He’s a war criminal. And he’s the architect of an unfolding humanitarian tragedy. Yet 99 percent of those who rail against Mugabe have never heard of Meles. How curious that Meles, whose government has engaged in far more repressive actions than any Mugabe has even been accused of, is showered with honors and aid, while Mugabe is treated as Africa’s version of Hitler. How curious that such patently silly charges as come from some fairly visible Western leftists can be made (among them that Mugabe is, appearances aside, an agent of imperialism ), while the same people have next to nothing to say about such conspicuous agents of imperialism as Meles and Mubarak.


Only recently, after Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf invoked a state of emergency, has Western media coverage and left-wing commentary got around to lambasting Musharaff for his restrictions on civil and political liberties. Significantly, this sudden concern for human rights coincides with Washington’s realizing that Musharraf has lost control and bungled the war against militants on Afghanistan’s border. The Bush regime is making clear to Pakistan’s military, and in particular, to the favored successor to Musharraf, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, that the $1 billion in military aid it receives every year is in jeopardy, unless Musharraf is gently pushed aside. Washington would like a civilian president to be appointed to douse the flames of growing civil unrest, who would call for new elections. De facto power, however, would remain with the military, and, by implication, with Washington, through the leverage over Pakistan’s military its substantial military aid provides.

One would think the sudden flowering of concern for human rights in Pakistan is a reflection of Musharaff doing a sudden about-face, but the Pakistani strongman is doing nothing new. He has been arresting opposition activists and blocking transmission of TV coverage critical of his rule for some time, and he has been doing so with the full knowledge of his paymasters in Washington. (Pakistanis call their president Busharraf, an acknowledgement of Musharraf’s role as a proxy for Washington.) Even so, the various left-wing groups, and the Western media, who seem to know no limit when it comes to denouncing Mugabe’s government for imagined lapses, have been largely silent on the human rights violations of Musharraf’s government, until now. Now that it serves US interests to harp on Musharraf’s generous abridgment of liberties in Pakistan in order to justify his removal have the Western media and pro-imperialist left decided to loudly condemn Musharraf.

Press Freedom

While there are two state-owned newspapers in Zimbabwe, The Herald and Sunday Mail, most newspapers, including the Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, Financial Gazette, The Zimbabwean and The Mail & Guardian of South Africa are pro-opposition and are sold freely on the streets. You would think, from the tales that are told about Zimbabwe, that there are no opposition newspapers and that they have all been closed by a tyrannical government that brooks no opposition. On the other hand, press freedoms are restricted in dozens of countries in which US strongmen rule as virtual dictators, and yet these affronts against freedom of the press are barely acknowledged, let alone condemned. This is another case of the Mugabe government being demonized for something it hasn’t done, while those who are actually engaged in practices the Mugabe government is accused of, get a pass because they are US client states.

The list of US allies that have jailed journalists or banned newspapers or both is endless. An impartial list, counting only recent crackdowns on press freedoms: Saudi Arabia, a human rights horror show if ever there was one, but one that rarely provokes much complaint from Western state officials, the media and the left groups that deplore the Mugabe government, recently banned a leading Arab newspaper, al-Hayat, because one of the newspaper’s columnists criticized the government.” (24) In September, Egypt’s Mubarak government sentenced four newspaper editors to one year jail sentences, and sentenced three journalists to two-year prison terms, because they criticized the government and made Mubarak look like a dictator. (25) In Georgia, the darling of the Rose Revolution, Mikheil Saakashvili, has moved to crush the Rose Revolution II, in part by violently closing down the country’s most popular television station, because, he said, it was fomenting a coup. (26) Predictably, the people power enthusiasts who thrilled at protests against US target governments in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Zimbabwe, have shown no interest in the people power protests of Hezbollah supporters against the US-supported Lebanese government or of Georgians against Washington’s man in Tbilisi, Saakashvili. It seems that what represents a genuine expression of people power depends on whether it is instigated and bankrolled by the West and elevated to significance by the Western media.

Saakashvili deserves more attention from the anti-Mugabe left than he gets. The color revolution poster boy is described by many of the tens of thousands of demonstrators who marched against his government in early November in a way that is reminiscent of the picture the anti-Mugabe forces paint of Mugabe. He is described as “domineering and abrasive.” His opponents accuse him of “hoarding and abusing power, and of running the nation through a clique that will neither tolerate dissent nor engage in dialogue with the opposition, which Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly made clear he despises and considers weak.” On top of that “the government also faces pressure from rising prices and lingering underemployment” and “economic conditions remain difficult enough that many Georgians travel abroad for work.” (27) Surely, those who thunder against Mugabe should be expressing their outraged indignation at Saakashvili, for, in the real world, Saakashvili is all they imagine Mugabe to be. Tony Blair’s chief of staff for 10 years, Jonathan Powell, says that Britain should intervene militarily in Zimbabwe, rather than standing back and watching Zimbabweans suffer. (28) He’s silent on Georgia.

Charges of Economic Mismanagement

On top of accusing Mugabe of rigging elections, repressing the opposition and stifling a free press, the Zimbabwean president is also accused of grossly mismanaging the Zimbabwean economy, turning the breadbasket of southern Africa into a basket-case. Even if you show that all the other accusations against Mugabe are gross hyperbole at best, and that there are dozens of other governments doing with impunity what Mugabe’s government is falsely accused of, one charge remains: Mugabe has wrecked Zimbabwe’s economy by carrying out a misguided land redistribution program.

There’s no doubt Zimbabwe is in the grips on an economic crisis. Food and electricity shortages plague the country. But not all of Zimbabwe’s economic problems are unique. In fact, many of its problems are part of a wider pattern of scarcity in sub-Saharan Africa. Last summer, The Washington Post (29) pointed out that “daily power outages are forcing Zimbabweans to light fires to cook and to heat water.” The result is that wood poaching has stripped nearly 500 acres of conservation woodland. But what the Post didn’t point out was that it’s not only Zimbabweans, but people throughout sub-Saharan Africa, who are stripping forests bare to provide heat and cooking fuel. (30) Because rolling power blackouts are depriving southern Africans of electricity to cook their food, they’re turning to wood fires. Drought, climbing oil prices, and the chaos caused by the privatization of formerly state-owned power companies have created an “unprecedented” power crisis that not only affects Zimbabwe, but Zambia, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Togo. Even South Africa was hit by rolling blackouts in January and sporadic power failures continue to bedevil the country.

But it is in Zimbabwe alone that the electricity shortages are attributed to economic mismanagement. The Washington Post noted that Zimbabwe’s “power, water, health and communications systems are collapsing,” and that “there are acute shortages of staple foods and gasoline.” These problems are attributed to economic mismanagement and Harare’s land reform policies. But acute food and gasoline shortages are common to neighboring countries. If Zimbabwe is short of gasoline, “Uganda’s gas stations are…short of diesel for vehicles.” (31) If there are shortages of food staples in Zimbabwe, there are close to two dozen other sub-Saharan countries that are contending with food scarcity, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. Since neighboring countries have not pursued Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform policies, and have tended to shy away from the economic indigenization policies Harare favors, gasoline, electricity and food shortages can hardly be attributed to policies uniquely pursued by Harare.


The US and its Western allies use sanctions to pressure Zimbabwe to adopt policies that welcome, promote and defend foreign ownership. The former US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, urged Mugabe to “implement the market reforms the IMF and others, including the United States, have been recommending.” Dell emphasized “the importance of a free-market economy and security of property,” which is to say, abandonment of the expropriation policies Harare has used to redistribute land to Africans. (32) It’s clear that sanctions would be lifted if Mugabe were to return Zimbabwe to neo-colonialism.

The sanctions, imposed by the US and EU, deny Zimbabwe access to international development aid. NGOs, following the Western governments that provide their funding, have also cut off assistance. These aren’t trade sanctions, but even so they have a devastating bite, making region-wide drought and the oil-price-rise-induced energy shortages more acute. It may seem as if Mugabe has mismanaged the economy, but Zimbabwe’s economic troubles are exogenous: drought and oil price increases, worsened by economic sanctions. In a pastoral letter issued last spring, 13 Anglican bishops and one canon of the Anglican Church, observed that Zimbabwe’s economic troubles have “been exacerbated by the economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries” which have “affected the poor Zimbabweans who have borne the brunt of the sanctions.” The clergymen called upon “the Western countries to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.” (33) To paraphrase Tim Beal, who has followed the effects of sanctions on north Korea, sanctions have three great advantages for the West. They cause virtually no pain to Americans and Europeans, they produce no Western casualties, and the results – the misery of ordinary Zimbabweans – can be blamed on Mugabe, which in turn is produced as evidence the sanctions are desirable and necessary. (34)


Edward Herman points out that “in the real world, both Musharraf and the Shah of Iran fit comfortably the category of ‘cruel dictator,’ whereas (Iranian president Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad does not.” And yet when Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University this year he was a called a ‘cruel dictator’ by university president Lee Bollinger. When Musharraf visited Columbia, Bollinger showered the Pakistani strongman with praise, calling him “a leader of global importance” and gushed “it is rare we have a leader of his stature at campus.” (35) Likewise, while in the real world Musharraf, Mubarak and Seles fit the description of cruel dictators, Mugabe, who was elected in a contest the Southern African Development Community declared to be free and fair, does not. Still, if you polled 100 people who claim to be well-informed, 99 would, like Bollinger, echo a line that reflects the interests of Western powers in demonizing a leader who opposes “our interests” and “our values”, to borrow the rhetoric of Blair advisor Jonathan Powell. What it’s important to recognize is that “our” does not refer to you and me, but to the dominant economic interests of the US and Britain, who would profit from Mugabe adopting IMF reforms, a free market, and safeguarding the property rights (of foreign firms and descendants of European settlers.)

What Western state officials and the media who amplify their words say about Zimbabwe should be considered critically and treated with the skepticism that is due highly partial sources that have well-established records of making false accusations (Western governments) and uncritically propagating them (the Western media.) One need point no further than the weapons of mass destruction that never were to make the case that what the US and Britain say and the media passes on should be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. In taking on the project of liberating the country from neo-colonial domination, the Mugabe government has challenged powerful interests in the West. We should expect that Western governments, Western news media and NGOs (which are funded by wealthy Westerners to promote their privileged interests under the guise of doing good works) to be hostile to the Mugabe government, and to portray it accordingly. By the same token, we should expect these same forces to portray the affronts against international law and civil and political liberties of states that act to defend and promote privileged interests in the West in a dispassionate, if not, apologetic manner, according them little notice. The Bollingers and Blairs of the world will continue to bestow honors and flattery upon cruel dictators who serve US and British interests, while reserving the label ‘cruel dictator’ for leaders of struggles against imperial domination. We need not follow the same pro-imperialist practice. Politicians, state officials, university presidents, CEOs, NGOs, and editorial writers are not politically neutral. When we mimic their positions on foreign affairs, we’re not showing solidarity with all oppressed people, though we might think we are in opposing the people dominant Western interests call ‘cruel dictators’. More often than not we’re showing solidarity with people who are accepting money from Western powers to oppose governments motivated by traditional leftist values of socialism or national liberation. At the same time, we’re failing to show solidarity with people oppressed by strongmen the US has brought to power to ensure Western corporate and financial interests prevail over the interests of local populations.

1. New York Times, April 15, 2007
2. Guardian, August 22, 2002
3. New York Times, September 20, 2006
4. Al-Ahram Weekly, February 21, 2007
5. Guardian, July 19, 2007
6. Washington Post, October 1, 2007
7. Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2007
8. Hajia Aminata Sow, “Zimbabwe: Burying the truth,” New African, November 2007
9. BBC, September 30, 2000
10. The Sunday Times, July 1, 2007
11. The Herald, April 15, 2007
12. Times Online, March 5, 2006
13. According to General Lord Charles Guthrie, The Sunday Mail, November 18, 2007
14. US State Department, “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The US Record, 2006”,
15. New York Times, November 11, 2007
16. Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 25, 2007
17. New York Times, June 29, 2007
18. Hajia Aminata Sow
19. New York Times, May 10, 2007
20. Washington Post, November 14, 2007
21. New York Times, November 20, 2007
22. Ibid
23. New York Times, December 14, 2006; Observer, September 10, 2006
24. Financial Times, August 29, 2007
25. Washington Post, October 1, 2007
26. New York Times, November 8, 2007; New York Times, November 18, 2007
27. New York Times, November 3, 2007
28. Jonathan Powell, “Why the West should not fear to intervene,” Observer, November 18, 2007
29. July 28, 2007
30. New York Times, July 29, 2007
31. Ibid
32. Christopher Dell, “Response to Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe monetary policy statement,” February 7, 2007
33. Pastoral letter issued by 14 Anglican bishops and one canon of the Anglican Church, Province of Central Africa, April 12, 2007
34. Pyongyang Report, October, 2007,
35. “More Nuggets From A Nut House, reprinted from Z Magazine at, November 17, 2007

Blair’s Goebbels Justifies Wars of Aggression

The Nazis held the idea of national sovereignty in contempt and would have had little patience with a national sovereignty-based international law. The reasons are obvious. The Nazis needed to justify their wars of aggression and the idea of the inviolability of national sovereignty stood in the way.

In the following essay, Jonathan Powell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff for 10 years, embraces Nazi foreign policy, without actually mentioning (or recognizing) it’s Nazi foreign policy he’s embracing. He argues that military interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were just, and that interventions elsewhere, including in Zimbabwe, would defend “our” interests and values, and should be pursued without hesitation.

Although he doesn’t say it, “our” does not refer to you and me, but to the dominant economic interests of the US and Britain, who have an interest in Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe adopting IMF reforms, a free market, and safeguarding property rights. Likewise, NATO’s war of aggression on Yugoslavia served dominant Western economic interests in dismantling Yugoslavia’s socialism, while the conquest of Iraq serves US and British oil interests.

The problem is, it’s difficult to elicit popular support for a policy of plunder, despoliation, renewed colonialism and aggressive war. Imperialist aggression has to be dressed up in the rhetoric of a high moral mission, if the public’s consent, cooperation, and at minimum, acquiescence is to be secured. Goebbels played the role of investing Nazi imperialism with a moral gravitas. Powell does the same for Anglo-American imperialism.  

Why the West should not fear to intervene

Jonathan Powell
Sunday November 18, 2007

The principle of non-interference in other nations’ affairs was established by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and brought to an end the 30 Years War. Unprecedented devastation had been visited on the continent by armies trying to impose the Reformation or the Counter-Reformation on neighbouring states and the two sides had fought themselves to a draw. The monarchs of the day decided to bring these wars to a permanent end. In future, it would be OK to defend yourself against attack and OK to fight over territory or succession, but countries could no longer fight for ideas.

The principle of non-interference lasted through the succeeding centuries and was regularly invoked by the Soviet Union. We in the West used it as an excuse to avoid doing anything about the Hungarian Uprising or the Prague Spring. It was morally questionable but probably sensible in a nuclear-backed stand-off.

The world has changed since then. Intervening in another country no longer risks tipping the two superpowers into global war, because there is only one superpower. More important, the force of globalisation has changed the world. With 24-hour news, massive global travel and migration, the world has become a much smaller place.

So whether or not isolationism was ever sensible or moral, it is no longer practical. We can’t protect our industries from competition by erecting tariff barriers and we can’t protect our citizens from terrorist attack simply by better border controls. If we stand by while other peoples are brutally suppressed in other parts of the world, from Kosovo to Iraq, and if we turn a blind eye when countries disintegrate into anarchy, as we did in Afghanistan and Somalia, we will face the consequences at home. And that is why what is happening now in Pakistan is so important to us.

Let me look at the lessons to be drawn from the 10 years of the Blair administration and our four wars. First, Sierra Leone. We could hardly claim self-defence for our military action there. As it was a success, no one questioned its theoretical justification. Now, with a democratic change of government in Sierra Leone, and democratic government established in neighbouring Liberia, there is real hope for the people of that part of West Africa.

Kosovo was trickier. First, the Clinton administration did not want to deploy ground troops after what had happened in Somalia. We applied pressure because we believed, correctly, it was impossible to win the war from the air. They did the right thing and Milosevic crumbled. But we never managed to secure UN support for the war because of the Russian veto. No one in the West questioned that because the operation was a success.

Afghanistan, again, was not self-defence. The ultimatum to the Taliban was clear – give up al-Qaeda or we will topple your regime. And that is what the US did. This time, no one complained, even though the intervention has not yet been a sustained success.

Iraq was the most difficult, even if not very different theoretically from our other interventions. No one in their right mind would wish to see the blood-letting and chaos that is going on in Iraq today. There is no point in trying to pretend it is all a wonderful success. But equally, I don’t think there are many people in Iraq or the rest of the world who want Saddam back. There was, however, a problem with the justification of the invasion – the holding of weapons of mass destruction in breach of UN resolutions. We now know Saddam didn’t have them. But to suggest it was all a conspiracy between Tony Blair and George W Bush to pretend he did is nonsense. We believed he had them, as did pretty much every other government in the world, whatever they say now. We didn’t kit our troops up in chemical warfare suits in the desert every time a missile was fired just for fun. So suggesting it was all a matter of Alastair Campbell cobbling together a dossier to pretend there were weapons of mass destruction is nonsense.

We should have been clear we were removing Saddam because he was a ruthless dictator suppressing his people. But the lawyers said there was no legal basis for proceeding on these grounds, and so we were not able to make this case as wholeheartedly as I would have liked.

Next the UN. The argument goes that we should not have intervened without a second United Nations Security Council resolution. But we intervened in Kosovo without such a resolution. The two crucial differences from Afghanistan and Kosovo were that a) we could not get a majority of countries on our side and b) we were not successful on the ground.

One of the reasons we argued so hard for a second resolution and tried so hard to get countries such as Mexico and Chile on side was that we believed if things got difficult in Iraq, we would do much better if we had the balance of the international community with us. And it is clearly true that if we had secured that support, we would be in a different place today, with a major UN role in Iraq and majority support around the world.

So if success on the ground was one of the big differences with Kosovo, why were we so relatively unsuccessful in Iraq? The biggest failing in my view was not fully to understand the consequences of our intervention. When you remove a brutal dictator who has annihilated all opposition for 30 years, it is inevitable you will face a period of anarchy when he is gone. All the basics of an ordinary society and law and order are not there. And when you superimpose that on a country where the minority, the Sunni, have ruled the majority, the Shia, for centuries, and you are trying to replace that with a majoritarian regime, it takes a long time to shake out the problems.

Let me draw some lessons from our 10 years of experience. We need a rules-based system. As other big countries rise to be superpowers they will have very different value systems from us. So it is in the US interest, as it is in the interest of medium-sized powers like the UK, to have the rule of law applied internationally as it is domestically.

We need a strong and reformed UN Security Council with the addition of Japan, Germany, India and Brazil. We need to make sure we have effective alliances that allow intervention to be undertaken when it can’t be done by medium-sized countries like ours alone. That means working with France to develop effective European intervention forces. And most of all it means trying to ensure that the US does not revert to isolationism. If it withdraws into itself as it did after Vietnam and Somalia, I fear it will face another 9/11 and all the rest of us will suffer.

We need to be better prepared for the aftermath of intervention. We weren’t properly prepared in Kosovo, in Afghanistan or in Iraq. It is no good saying as Donald Rumsfeld did, ‘We don’t do nation building.’ That is exactly what we do need to be able to do.

In making the argument for interventionism, I am not suggesting we should go around invading countries willy-nilly. Tony Blair’s Chicago speech of 1998, in which he made the case for liberal interventionism, set out five conditions in which intervention may be appropriate and I think these still hold:

1. We need to be sure of our case. War is a very imperfect instrument for righting wrongs, but armed force is sometimes the only way of replacing dictatorships.
2. Have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance.
3. Are there practical and sensible military options? Sending gunboats to Zimbabwe won’t work.
4. Are we prepared for the long term? We talk about exit strategies, but we cannot just walk away when a fight is over.
5. Do we have national interests engaged? That does not mean oil, but do we promote our own security better by protecting the rights of others in a particular situation?

I think there are cases today where the application of those tests would lead to a more robust approach.

Take Burma. What about actually doing something about the obscene regime of the generals? Are we just spectators as the monks march and are killed? Of course, the primary responsibility lies in the hands of its neighbours, but we can do far more to encourage them to be more robust in their attitudes.

Or Zimbabwe? Mugabe can use anything we say or do to stir the dying embers of anti-colonialism. And again, the primary responsibility lies with its neighbours, particularly South Africa, but are we really saying we just have to watch while his people suffer?
What are we going to do in Iraq? The first thing is to recognise that the solution is political rather than military. Now the danger of the country splitting apart is past, it is the moment to concentrate on trying to get the Shia and Sunni to come to an accommodation. Once the Sunnis have come to terms with sharing power with the Shia, our task will be done. It is only when there is a political settlement that we will be able to leave.

In Iran, I am not in favour of a military option because I don’t think it is practical. No one is suggesting invading Iran to overthrow the regime. That is the task of the overwhelmingly young population that wants to be rid of the corrupt mullahs. The difficulty we face is one of timelines. The regime will be overthrown. And if there was a democratic and stable regime in place, I suppose, as in the case of India, we would not object so much to a nuclear-armed Iran. But we don’t know when it will be overthrown. In the meantime, they are developing nuclear weapons, helping attacks on our troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan and supporting Hizbollah and Hamas. Western policymakers have yet to come up with a way of dealing with these different timelines and I do not have the answer either, although I suspect it lies in a combination of sanctions targeted on the regime. There is nothing like measures that affect the bank accounts of the Republican Guard to get their attention quickly.

My former boss is fond of saying that the political divide that matters in the world now is not that between left and right but that between open and closed. The threat we face is from those that advocate isolationism, protectionism and nativism – and it is striking how the debate on immigration has taken off in Europe and in the US. The enemy are the people who want to divide us into groups, to turn people against one another and take society backwards. The only hope we have is that those who want openness, tolerance and progress still have the political will to fight that battle and resist the tide of Luddism.

I believe the idea of liberal interventionism will survive as the best way of defending our interests and the moral way of promoting our values.