International crisis? Thank goodness we have the right people at the helm.

Posted on February 13, 2022

In one respect, Ben Wallace can count himself an honourable exception to many of his colleagues and predecessors. As Secretary of State for Defence he does, at least, have some knowledge about armed service. He may not have been in the thick of firestorms and the fog of war, but he served a term in Northern Ireland where, from time to time, people were definitely attempting to kill him and his colleagues. This marks him out from some of the windbags around him, who loll in the mother of parliaments and for whom the term ‘armchair general’ is a perfect fit.


None of this is an excuse for his rather odd outburst this weekend. One of the unwritten rules of vigorous political disagreement is that the moment you invoke Hitler and the Nazis, your argument is pretty well done for. Such trite comparisons are almost always wildly inaccurate, entirely inappropriate and, usually, hurtfully insulting to genuine victims of oppression and tyranny. So when ex-soldier Ben told The Times today that there was ‘a whiff of Munich in the air’ as various governments persisted with diplomatic attempts to stem Russian aggression in Ukraine, alarm bells should start ringing.


Yes, I know. I’m a commie appeaser or a Soviet apologist or white-feathered coward – take your pick. Just for the record, none of these statements is true, but don’t let that get in the way of any unfounded prejudice. Putin is a vicious, vindictive piece of work, beset by complete political dysfunction in his own country, desperate to deflect attention away from his failing state. None of which makes military intervention on the part of NATO, inevitably involving UK troops, the proper response. Recent history tells a shocking story about such ‘defensive’ interventions, most recently in the living hells that are Afghanistan and Libya. Diplomacy and negotiation might not make for vainglorious headlines, but disastrous invasions – about which Putin and his advisors must be all too painfully aware – have a vile track record of leaving failed states along with dead soldiers and civilians aplenty behind them.


And, yes, there is a deep-seated flaw in putting our faith in diplomacy. It comes in the form of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, a woman who presents an air of permanent surprise mixed with preening self-satisfaction at having found herself holding one the great offices of State. She could never have looked more uncomfortable than during her excruciating press conference with grizzled veteran Sergei Lavrov last week. Nervous Liz delivered her statement with all the uncertainty of a gawky sixth-former, dragged into the debating competition at the last minute, but only on the condition that someone else would write down exactly what she had to say.


Truss has developed a decent line in absurd tweets and daft throwaway lines from everything to cheese, to hedgehogs to microwaves, all of which make for great clips on current-affairs satire shows – although she needn’t worry too much about too many more of these hitting the airwaves once her fellow intellectual heavyweight, Nadine Dorries, has her way. There is, of course, plenty of precedent for this reliance on a jolly soundbite from one of her recent predecessors at the Foreign Office. When Boris Johnson held that esteemed office, Downing Street officials were briefed to withhold information from him on the grounds of his being a potential security risk. Leopards and spots and all that.


Current reports suggest that the citizens of Kyiv are going about their business in the full understanding that invasion is a possibility. They think such an incursion unlikely but understand it is a possibility. Their recent history bears the scars of repression and violence: they know what war does. So do the Tories. It can make them popular. In 1982, Thatcher, along with Galtieri in Argentina, was prepared to send hundreds of working-class boys to horrible deaths in water and fire for her own political gain. Flag waving and invoking wartime spirit and bravery that existed on the fringes of their childhood or, more likely, in their enflamed imagination, proved a perfect diversion from the inequality, lack of opportunity and rampant inflation that was afflicting those who had voted for her. It won’t have gone unnoticed by the partygoers.


These are troubled and anxious times when we should look to people of strength, principle and clarity of mind to set things right. With every fawning, lickspittle placeholder who appears on our screens, refusing to answer straight questions and treating us like idiots, our collective faith in them dwindles. Trust such people to navigate between war and peace? No answer required.

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