Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has written an article in Britain’s Independent newspaper with the scary, clickbaity headline ‘Because of Trump and Brexit, we are closer to war than we have been for decades.’
Ashdown is a respected stalwart of the British political establishment – an avuncular, heroic former soldier and diplomat it is easy for everyone to look up to.
No one has really had to worry about him too much politically. His main achievement in power was to lead a political party that acts as a vote depository for people who stare down at their ballots on election day and realize they’ve left their convictions at home.
The tone of his thoughts in the Independent underline two threads which come through on a lot of current mainstream thought.
Firstly, that the election of Trump and Brexit (the two go together like love and marriage these days) are some kind of uncalled-for practical joke against the poor, well-intentioned establishment who were getting along just fine thank you very much. Just like a truly crazy person has no idea they’re nuts, establishment figures like Ashdown appear to have no idea they’re the cause of the things they’re railing against.
Then there is the endless talk of a looming, make-believe conflict, and the claim “we are closer to war than we’ve been for decades.” That is, apart from all the wars that have actually been launched and fought in the last few decades.
And who exactly is it that Ashdown thinks wants to go to war? He talks of the most “aggressive Russian President of recent times.” However many times politicians suggest, for example, that bogeyman Russia is planning for war, it doesn’t make it true. It’s much more likely Western nations will talk themselves into a conflict based on nothing. It’s happened before.
Ashdown supported the removal of Saddam Hussein by force from Iraq, even when his Liberal Democrats party did not. Now, he warns that “the liberal principles that have underpinned every civilised society, every peaceful age and every prosperous society are under attack as never before.”
Those liberal principles have also proved helpful in allowing Western societies to ease their conscience when they launch all their good, and clearly unmemorable, wars. The only liberal thing about liberal societies’ wars in recent years is the liberal use of bombs in them.
These kinds of over-the-top think pieces get us nowhere, and achieve nothing other than to scare the bejesus out of people. How about this prediction:
“We are witnessing a historic Gunfight at the OK Corral standoff in Washington right now – and only one side will remain standing. Either Donald Trump will destroy American democracy, or American democracy will destroy Donald Trump.”
Let’s be honest, nothing like this is going to happen. In all likelihood, Trump will lose the next election and American democracy will carry on as it did before, perhaps with Oprah at the helm this time. Trump will move back to New York, build the first presidential skyscraper library and eat a Big Mac. Everyone will remain standing, and nothing will be destroyed.
What is the thinking behind these huge, breathless, flowery statements from people in power? Again it poses the question, what are they trying to convince themselves of?
History surrounds British politicians. They breathe it. Quite literally they operate in ancient buildings, and meet in historic clubs. Ashdown leans on the past to make any point he needs and confirm any bias he’s aiming to get across.
His article here makes a mockery of Godwin’s Law – on the likelihood of Hitler being mentioned the longer an online debate rages – by opening straight up with a reference to the Nazis.
“I have been spending a lot of time recently researching the 1930s. I am forcefully struck by the similarities.”
He should try researching the present. But OK, we’re in the 1930s.
Then a few paragraphs later this: “Now we are moving into a multi-polar world – more like Europe in the 19th century than the last decades of the 20th.”
So it’s the 19th century, not the 1930s. Got it.
“A foreign policy for the next 50 years based on what we have done for the previous 50 years will be clumsily out of tune with the times. This is where we are right now. Everything has changed in the world, except Britain’s view of it.”
Now I’m just confused.
What Britain is he talking about? The people who voted for Brexit appear to have expressed a very different view of the world, and how they’d like it to be, for better or worse. Ashdown’s ‘Britain’ is the one represented in the corridors of power that wants a return to the old, cushy years of pre-Brexit, pre-Trump.
Paddy Ashdown represents a political class not able to get a grip on what’s happening.
Ashdown loves a cause, but has no clue he is a cause.