He has much to teach us. Photo: Getty
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We need to bring back the Blair approach to foreign policy

As far as foreign policy is concerned, Britain's leaders would benefit from a lesson or two from Tony Blair.

It may seem odd for a liberal to look at Tony Blair in a positive light. But in a paper I’ve written for CentreForum today entitled “Rethinking the Blair doctrine”, I do just that. Specifically, I look back at a speech the then prime minister gave in Chicago on April 24th, 1999 regarding liberal interventionism.

In that speech, Blair outlined what he thought were the five key questions that should be definitively answered prior to any western power becoming militarily involved in any conflict abroad. It was a good set of principles, to which I would only add one further question (“Is there currently a military conflict active in the region/country at the time of consideration?”).

Four years and a bit later, Britain was part of a coalition of western nations that invaded Iraq. It was an invasion I and many others opposed and continue to think was a poor idea – in my case, at least partly because I feel none of the considerations Blair himself outlined in his Chicago speech of 1999 had been adequately met in the case of Iraq. However, this does not mean that the Blair doctrine itself wasn’t still a very fine set of principles to apply to any future consideration regarding liberal interventionism. Nor, more importantly, does it mean that liberal interventionism itself should become devalued in and of itself in light of the Iraq invasion.

Related to this, liberalism should not be the creed of unadulterated pacifism. Yes, any war needs to be fully justified (thus going back to the Blair doctrine in the first place), but as internationalists, how can any conflict, ever, be ruled out? I ask you this: if military intervention can be taken prudently and decisively, in a part of the world in which an active war is already taking place, in other words intervention can definitively save thousands of lives – should that be opposed? My answer to progressives is, no, it should not.

I take Syria as a case in point. In my paper, I argue that Britain should have intervened. I believe that had we done so, the Syrian civil war could have been ended there and then and what has followed – most notably the ascendance of Daesh, aka ISIS – could have been averted. But I have to admit, this is mere speculation. Neither you nor I will ever know in what such a course of action would have resulted. I say all of this to illustrate I am well aware that thinking about liberal interventionism is difficult and comes down, in every case, to making difficult decisions. But they are also decisions I think cannot be avoided. Even if you choose the road of pacifism in every instance, you are still making a choice, one that may affect thousands of lives.

I sincerely wish we all lived in a Francis Fukuyama “end of history” world in which the belligerence of nation states, either against other nation states or their own people, was something confined to the past. Sadly, in a world in which Assad and Putin, not to mention the Saudis and the Iranian theocracy, not only thrive but command real international power, we still live in a world in which military choices will still have to be made for the foreseeable future.

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.

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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder