“The ‘Dogs of War’ are loose and the rugged Russian Bear,
Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawled out of his lair,
It seems a thrashing now and then, will never help to tame,
The brute, and so he’s bent upon the ‘same old game’.
“The Lion did his best to find him some excuse,
To crawl back to his den again, all efforts were not use,
He hunger’d for his victim, he’s pleased when blood is shed,
But let us hope his crimes may all recoil upon his head.
“Chorus: We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.
We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true,
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.” THEY’RE BACK!
Riding the swell of war hysteria stoked, then as now, by Fleet Street Disraeli sent the British Navy to the Dardanelles. But World War I was not fated to break out quite yet, and was averted by the treaty of the Congress of Berlin, wherein the Czar sold out his Slavic Bulgarian brothers and the Turks agreed to be a lot nicer to their slaves. The real winners were the Brits, who, by merely threatening war, were awarded the island of Cyprus. Disraeli described this triumph of British bully tactics as “peace with honor” yet another unfortunate phrase of that turbulent era to have come down to us with similar consequences. The war party came to be known as the jingoes or jingoists and it looks like they are back with a vengeance.
The manifesto of the new jingoists or, at least, the condensed version recently appeared in the London Times, where news editor and columnist Michael Gove openly exhorted conservative politicians on both sides of the Atlantic: “We must fight the good fight for jingoism“! It’s time, opines Gove, the grise eminence of the Tory Right, “for a revival of jingoism,” which he refers to as “this grand Victorian principle.” Ah yes, a principle that led to World War I, wrecked European civilization, paved the way for the rise of totalitarianism, and ushered in a new world war: it’s simply dizzying to contemplate the sheer grandness of it all!
SADDAM IN BANGKOK?
Now, as before, jingoism is concerned with what was known in the late 1800s as the “Eastern question”: back then, Turkey was the prize. Today, it is Iraq, but the same imperialist appetites and theater of operations comes into play. “With the godfather of terror, President Saddam Hussein, still repugnantly in place, and the rising son, George W. Bush, at last restoring virtue to the White House, the moment,” writes Gove, “is ripe” for war. Not the promiscuous, vacuously “idealistic” wars of Clinton and Blair, but the hardheaded and focused aggressions that deal with “real threats,” such as the Godfather of Terror, whose agents, we are breathlessly told, “have been at work as far afield as Bangkok and the Balkans.” Is Saddam planning on conquering the fleshpots of Bangkok? Having failed to corner the world market in oil, perhaps he’s moving in on the sex trade. Hyperbole is the traditional jingoist style: in Hunt’s ditty, the Russian Bear “is pleased when blood is shed,” while Gove depicts Saddam as a madman who is “starving his own people” and is ready to “devastate Western cities.”
THOSE MISUNDERSTOOD JINGOES
The purpose of all this rhetorical hysteria, however, is to divert attention away from the War Party’s central problem: with the old Soviet Union gone, the Left has taken up the cause of global interventionism as the only way to establish international socialism. So how to fight the rising tide of what they call “isolationism” on the Right? This movement grew up, they think, largely as a reaction to the giddy internationalism of Clinton-Blair. In America, and Britain to some extent, the return of the Old Right, old church, anti-imperialist conservatism of yesteryear presents the War Party with a major challenge: the solution, as Gove has cleverly demonstrated, is to package the new jingoism as the policy of caution. While this may seem counterintuitive, Gove explains that jingoism has really been the victim of a bad press. “Jingoism,” he avers,
“has become synonymous in the public mind with bellicose adventurism. But when the word first emerged, it encapsulated the essence of prudent foreign policy. In the words of the music-hall song which inspired the phrase: ‘We don’t want to fight, but, by jingo if we do, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.’ And in that raucous chorus there lies more wisdom than in most contemporary pronouncements on foreign affairs.”
A POSTMODERN TRAGEDY
Let history judge whether it was “prudent” to squelch the move for Balkan independence and take up the cause of Islam in Europe as a bulwark against the Russian Bear. From the point of view of Disraeli, whose sole purpose was the enrichment and expansion of the British Empire, it was a policy that made sense: so, too, with Mr. Gove and his fellow neo-jingoists on the other side of the Atlantic (where they are called neoconservatives) What is striking here is that history seems to be repeating itself in a way that underscores its tragic irony: the same tragedy is being re-enacted in the same theater, with the same players mouthing the same lines but with a postmodern twist.
LEFT AND RIGHT
Many commentators on the international scene have remarked on the similarities of the post-cold war world to the years preceding the first world war, with the former Soviet Union taking the place of the old Ottoman Empire as the “Sick Man of Europe” and the twin battlegrounds of the Balkans and the Middle East once again central to the drama. Only this time, in the West, the domestic players have switched roles, with the conservative imperialists of yesteryear, the Disraelis and the Teddy Roosevelts, replaced by the born-again militarism of Blair and Clinton. Gove laments that
“Unfortunately, the most vigorous case made against the Blairite, and as it happened, Clintonite, approach of promiscuous insertion of military muscle came from a neoisolationist alliance of Left and Right which doesn’t want to fight at all. This curious coalition which brought George Galloway and Pat Buchanan together, which unites continental Greens and Le Penistes and which has given Bruce Kent a new lease of life, has been strengthened by the Blair and Clinton Governments’ mishandling of Kosovo and energized by their proliferation of military adventures.”
THE NEW PEACENIKS
These "extremists," says Gove, must both be rejected, and a “prudent” Disraelian foreign policy put firmly in place: jingoism, it turns out, is the “rational” center of the foreign policy spectrum, the true middle ground between Clintonian-Blairite utopianism and the “new peaceniks” of the right. While “there is a strong case for proper suspicion towards Utopian attempts to achieve a new world order” how understated, how British, can you get? the nationalists, or “neo-isolationists,” as Gove dubs them, “have damaged the case for caution with their willingness to believe that any enemy of the ‘new world order’ should be a friend.” If hyperbole is the stylistic leitmotif of jingoist propaganda, then its content is made up almost entirely of lies. How many conservative opponents of the Kosovo war idolized Slobodan Milosevic? Answer: none. I don’t recall Pat Buchanan singing the praises of Saddam Hussein, either. It’s a breathtaking lie, yet Gove doesn’t even stop to take a breather, but gets right to the real cause of his ire: “The new peaceniks, with their opposition to national missile defense (NMD), willingness to be Saddam’s stooges in attacking Iraqi sanctions, and blindness to the resurgent imperial ambitions of Russia and China, leave the world open to more conflict, not less.”
OUR IMPERIALISM, AND THEIRS
Gove would like us to believe that he and his fellow jingoists are making “the case for caution.” But if a war to seize the Middle East oil fields and confront the Russian Bear in his own former lair is cautious, then I would like to see what a really risky course would look like. Gove charges Russia and China with harboring “resurgent imperial ambitions,” but what is the Anglo-American assault on Iraq a mission of mercy? And as for the idea that a policy of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations will, somehow, provoke “more conflict, not less,” the new jingoism, like the old, is blind to its own arrogance, and blithely unaware of what is obvious to every nation whose first language is not English: that the Western powers, the US and Great Britain, are the main causes of conflict in the world.
THE NMD CONNECTION
The most interesting aspect of all this is the National Missile Defense connection: Tory leader William Hague’s endorsement of the NMD, and his suggestion that Star Wars ought to cover the British Isles as well as the US, raises the banner of the old “Union Now” Anglophiles and New York Times columnist William Safire was among the first to salute. Hague wants the Bushies to go beyond “a purely national missile shield.” Instead, “the aim should surely be a global defense shield to which Britain could contribute its early warning radars as well as much-needed political and diplomatic support.” In the Times [January 25, 2001], Safire exults:
“This revives the original idea behind NATO. American power including the nuclear umbrella was extended across the Atlantic to protect our European allies, as their forces joined in mutual defense. In planning to cope with the threat sure to come from Iraq, Iran or some well-financed terrorist group, an American-built missile defense system should again be assisted by, and in return protect, our allies.”
A global defense shield for a global empire the nucleus of which is the Anglo-American alliance, effectively and militarily merged into a single entity. The idea of merging the US and Canadian armed forces was recently raised by a prominent advisor to the Canadian military, and such a union with the Brits is the logical next step. In this sense, the new jingoism is the perfect model of the old: the jingoes of the British Empire saw their domain as the symbol of the superiority of the English-speaking peoples, and its most militant advocates eagerly looked forward to the reversal of the American Revolution and the return of the rebellious colonies. Along with Russophobia, the prospect of this reunion is becoming a major theme of jingoists on both sides of the Atlantic, and the drumbeat is likely to get louder as NATO expansion brings American and British soldiers within spitting distance of the Kremlin. It was the neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer who first announced the arrival of “the unipolar moment,” as the Berlin Wall fell, and urged the US to act quickly to assure its “universal dominion” over a “supersovereign” entity consisting of America, Europe, and Japan:. This “new universalism,” he wrote, “is not as outrageous as it sounds” at least not if you’re in tune with the new jingoism.
NO MIDDLE GROUND
By tying in the loopy conservative hobbyhorse of a “national missile defense” with the prospect of looming monsters lurking everywhere Gove confides that “the range of threats to stability in the modern world is, potentially, endless” the Gove-Safire Atlanticists are attempting to go at least part of the way toward fulfilling Krauthammer’s universalist vision. It is a vision, however, that will not find much sympathy outside the Washington Beltway and its British equivalent. Furthermore, if the Atlanticists hope to occupy the “middle ground” of a terrain fought over by the antiwar Right and the globalist interventionist Left, then they will find themselves caught in the crossfire as the battle heats up. And it is getting hot pretty quickly.
WAITING IN THE WINGS
The immediate goal of our postmodern jingoes, it seems, is being actively contemplated if not yet planned by the incoming administration: Bush hadn’t even moved into the White House before Colin Powell was shaking his saber at Iraq. To give the new war hysteria a bipartisan flavor, among the final acts of the Clinton administration was the release of millions of dollars in aid to Iraqi “insurgents” with a plan to send them into Iraq. The more cynical among us raised the possibility of the US having to “rescue” them, creating both a military opening and a pretext for intervention. At any rate, Desert Storm II is waiting in the wings, but whether the longer term goals of the jingoist revival will be met remains to be seen.
A HARD SELL
From where I sit, they’ll have a hard time selling Desert Storm II to conservatives, who will ask why we’re enduring a gas shortage and simultaneously embargoing Iraqi oil. As for the long-range vision of Anglo-American unity, this will prove even more problematic for American conservatives, as underscored by their iconization of Mel Gibson in The Patriot. In any case, the neoconservative vogue for all things “Victorian” is not shared by the conservatives of the American heartland, where the new jingoism is bound to go over like a lead balloon. While a few Tories, not all of them in England, might swoon over the prospect of reviving the British Empire as the Pax Americana, such a scheme is indeed just as outrageous as it sounds.