It’s a depressing reflection on our nation’s politics that one of the reasons Ed Miliband’s well-delivered speech at Labour Conference is being feted by apparently stunned journalists is that he was able to make a speech without having it written down in front of him.
Across the pond, on the other hand, Gov Gary Johnson – the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate – has shown how to really break the mould when making a speech: Crowd-surfing…
I’ve written before about the libertarian case for intervention in Libya, which is very strong in my view. Through the no-fly zone and airstrikes against the military of this murderous dictator we have already saved thousands or tens of thousands of innocent lives.
Now our involvement is moving to a new stage, with the reported plans to deploy Apache attack helicopters to enforce a defended buffer zone around Misrata. In keeping with my earlier article on Libya, I don’t have a problem with this as long as it’s tactically justified – which it seems to be given the extant threat to Misrata and the clear evidence that the city’s residents are opposed to Gaddafi.
What must be avoided, though, is confusion around how this affects our role. There’s an old military maxim that goes “Order + counterorder = disorder”, and without clear terms of engagement our military mission could become confused. Those terms of engagement must be made particularly clear to the public, so that they are involved at each step of this road rather than left in the dark.
The main potential source of confusion I can foresee is that while the Government apparently intends to send in helicopters, which are far more vulnerable to being shot down or crashing through malfunction than the jets we’ve used up to this point, David Cameron and Barack Obama are also committing that we will never “put boots on the ground” in Libya.
I’m not sure that those two commitments are compatible. I don’t think we need an invasion, a land force, an army base in Free Libya or anything like that, but it’s easy to imagine a situation where – God forbid – one of our helicopters goes down in hostile territory. Are we really saying that in that situation we would refuse to drop an SAS force in to establish a perimeter and recover our guys, or go in to get them back from their captors in the style of the Operation Barras rescue in Sierra Leone?
I would certainly assume that we would do those things if the circumstances arose – and I’m sure everyone in the Armed Forces would assume the same, as would the British public. It would be the right thing to do, standing by our own, brave soldiers.
If it happened, there’s no way the Government could countenance just abandoning them to Gaddafi’s thugs, so they would end up having to break this promise and then try to explain retrospectively why it was never a practical one in the first place.
So why take the risk of confusion – and the political damage of having to spin or redefine what “boots on the ground” means after the fact – by making such a commitment?
The media are now engaged in a frantic exercise in tail-chasing over what the result of the midterms really means.
It’s certain that the Democrats took quite a drubbing – particularly in the massive swing in the House of Representatives and the strong swing to the Republicans in many gubernatorial races, though less so in the Senate.
It was also a good night for the Tea Party both electorally and reputationally.
Electorally, the real posterboys of the movement – Rand Paul and Marco Rubio (whom I drew attention to back in September) romped home. The movement’s detractors claim these two don’t count, because they were fighting for seats with Republican incumbents, but that misses the point. Yes, they beat the Democrats but more crucially they beat the Republican establishment. These were victories for the Tea Party over the whole political establishment – that is why they matter so much.
Reputationally, the candidates that the media and the Tea Party’s critics wanted to be the face of the movement – people like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell – lost. There are some burned TPM fingers as a result, but that is a lesson learned: don’t pick weirdos. The ability of voters to be selective and sensible whilst still backing the Tea Party has been demonstrated.
The most important result of all, though, is that last night represents a crushing defeat – particularly on the fiscal front – for neoconservatism.
The British stereotype that neocons are all about foreign policy is mistaken; that was tacked on to a previously isolationist philosophy after 9/11. In reality, the neocons’ most distinguishing ideological feature was a rejection of fiscal conservatism (opposition to deficits and support for balanced books, low tax and low spending) in favour of big spending, big debt and hang the consequences. That is why they and Obama are viewed as much of a muchness by most Tea Party activists and why the Tea Party began rolling in the Bush years, well before Obama’s election.
The Tea Party is an earthquake, and it is the neocons’ house that has come crashing down. The people have rejected big spending, government debt and deficit finance wholesale in favour of low taxes, spending cuts and an end to deficits.
The Republican establishment took a long time to realise this. Those who stuck to their deficit-financed guns have been swept away, and those who adapted are scrabbling to join the new consensus. Neoconservatism is dead – long live the Tea Party.