The left has lost the plot: By defending sovereignty in the name of anti-imperialism, opponents of war undermine their claim to champion the oppressed (John Lloyd, April 11, 2003, The Guardian)

(This is an edited extract of an article from this week’s New Statesman, explaining ex-editor John Lloyd’s reasons for resigning as a columnist.) […]

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN leaders have spread the message that their organisation could now enter into its own – as a protector of the downtrodden who, most often, are trodden on by their own rulers. This movement culminated, less than two years ago, in a Canadian-sponsored report, A Responsibility to Protect – a brilliant summation of the arguments for stripping tyrants of sovereign inviolability. Of the major government leaders, only Blair has embraced the report, as the logical extension of the ethical dimension in foreign policy that Labour promulgated when it came to office.

Most of the left refused to follow this line. For some, it has been enough to declare all ethical dimensions phoney, since states such as Britain continued to shake hands with tyrants. For others, state sovereignty seems a necessary protection against what they see as the largest threat to the world: US imperialism.

US imperialism, in this view of a now resurgent part of the left, is composed of a mixture of things: efforts to control energy resources, principally oil; the repression of the Palestinians to ensure the security of the US “client state” Israel; a US refusal to tolerate any power that counterbalances its own; a hatred of all cultures other than its own, and a determination to destroy such cultures to make the world passively receptive to American values and merchandise.

Will the end of the war and the effort to rebuild decent government in Iraq change the view of the left? It would seem unlikely: the anti-US reflex is too ingrained, the dislike of Blair too great.

Yet the left’s programme now should be to argue in favour of committing resources to those multilateral agencies that work, and to seek agreement from those forces everywhere in the world that are committed to democratic (or at least more responsive) government and to an observation of human and civil rights. The aim, as the US political scientist Michael Walzer has put it, should be a “strong international system, organised and designed to defeat aggression, to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing, to control weapons of mass destruction and to guarantee the physical security of all the world’s peoples”.

The issue of sovereignty would seem to be the key to the questuion of whether the Free World can act to liberate oppressed peoples. The once honorable Left and establishment Churches seem to have settled into a position that holds national sovereignty inviolable. This has the great advantage of discrediting all wars, but the enormous disadvantage of sanctioning all kinds of evil acts by regimes, apparently up to and including genocide. This turn of events, which has placed two segments of Western society that have long and proud traditions of resisting State authority on the side of homicidal totalitarian dictatorship is genuinely sad–in no case more so than that of the Pope–but for anyone who loves liberty must be a clarion call to treat doctrinairely “anti-war” clerical authorities and liberal activists as what they are become, enemies of human freedom.

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