U. S. President George W. Bush waving goodbye to Prime Minister Tony Blair as he boards a helicopter to depart from Camp David. Picture Credit: Greg Mathieson/Mai/Getty Images

The ideology that refuses to die

US neoconservatism is enjoying an unmerited afterlife in the UK

Artillery Row

The American Right undergoing a reckoning. The hawkish alliance of jingoist conservatives and self-described muscular liberals had been on shaky ground in the later years of the Obama administration, but was broken entirely with the rise of Trumpism.

Pro-war positions remain extremely unpopular with the British public

The most successful American neo-conservatives are no longer strictly American”. Tune into primetime Fox News (Tucker Carlson Tonight exempt) and you’ll most likely be greeted with the pallid visage of Douglas Murray. A leading figure of the long-since-irrelevant “Intellectual Dark Web” alliance, Murray bucked the trend of liberals being cast out of the populist right. He has made a very successful career out of tone-policing US conservatives with the same tactics he publicly disavows: tone-policing, underhanded calls for censorship, and cynical accusations of various wrong-think infractions against political rivals. 

The reports of the death of neoconservatism are greatly exaggerated, at least on our side of the Atlantic. To be anti-war in Britain today is to be universally reviled: shunted to the margins of British politics, your bedfellows are the anti-imperialist Left spearheaded by Corbyn and his gang, and the tree-hugging, free-loving Green Party. No serious British conservative would align himself with such company.

Despite the best efforts of our elected officials, pro-war positions remain extremely unpopular with the British public. A no-fly zone is opposed by Britons by 39% to 28%, with conservatives being the most opposed group of those polled. Tugendhat and his Tory bedfellows are remarkably out of step with public opinion.

Anti-interventionists have no real representation in contemporary British politics, without allying with the understandably unpopular “Stop The War” activist coalition. For too long ghoulish politicians have been allowed to fail upwards, pushing for wars they will not fight in and demanding aid packages they will not pay for.

The intellectual malaise that infects British foreign policy clings to the hallowed days of unchallenged American unipolar supremacy. Little has changed within the blob since the simpering words of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a 2002 speech at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library, that “when America is fighting for those values, then, however tough, we fight with her. No grandstanding, no offering implausible but impractical advice from the comfort of the touchline, no wishing away the hard not the easy choices on terrorism and WMD, or making peace in the Middle East, but working together, side by side.” Ironically, Blair would also praise another great power with new leadership in this same address: Russia, under President Putin. Continuing, Blair stated that “He is in my view a bold and immensely capable leader, moving his country into a new and cooperative partnership with us.”

The Tory MP and foreign affairs select committee chair Tom Tugendhat had previously been in the news for making an emotional plea for the UK to pick up where the Americans left off as hated administrators of the Afghan puppet regime. This time around, he has stepped up his game: the government should expel all Russian citizens and freeze all their assets, to prove just how serious Britain is about the Rule Of Law and Defense. The call for forced ethnic repatriations went down rather smoothly in the chamber, and has hardly received any attention from Westminster press.

We are not the plucky little ally to American supremacy

Tobias Ellwood, not to be outdone, has called for weapons to be sent to Moldova, demanded NATO troop deployment be considered, and stated that a No Fly Zone was the “least” that the UK should do. Most egregious of all is his posting a utterly misleading tweet (still up at time of writing) from 2014 claiming to be of Ukrainian fighters throwing molotovs against Russian invaders. Ellwood had written last year about the dangers of ‘fake news’

While the appeals for Britain to stake a path outside of America’s shadow are certainly compelling, the awkward fact remains that Britain is, in her current state, ludicrously weak. As Charlie Peters explained last week, our armed forces have been systematically underfunded for decades. The actually-existent army is far from combat ready, without even considering the strategic merits of a hot war in Ukraine (which are doubtful, to put it gently).

It feels at times too complimentary to call Tugendhat and his ilk neoconservatives. They do not hold a consistent ideological framework, after all, and merely react to world events with knee jerk shock: “we must do something, and something is happening, so something must be done”. That Zelenskyy’s government is producing fabricated propaganda in an attempt to drag Europe into the war is understandable. That elected MPs are falling for it is not.

The happy fiction of equal standing with America must be cast off from our psyche; for only then can we reckon with Britain’s place in a post-NATO world. We are not the plucky little ally to American supremacy, but a de-militarised irrelevancy. That we cannot even develop our own foreign policy strategy without borrowing the philosophy of America’s most reviled public intellectuals is a cause for national shame.

The immense charismatic power of Trump kept the “Boomer-cons” in his cabinet on a tight leash, and the parochial ethnic hostility of neoconservatives has, so far, proved too much for American conservatives when turned towards domestic enemies of the regime. The long awaited redemption of the paleo-conservatives has begun. It is a shame, then, that Britain is so ideologically stagnant. Under the guidance of Ellwood and his gang, our country will remain what it has been for some time: a quaint irrelevance, mired in nostalgia and delusion. 

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