Viscount Hinchingbrooke demurs
Does the world still need UR? Before this fall, I thought I was cool, because I’d come up with the deeply subversive idea of calling our government what it calls itself. I was in fact so cool that I had this idea as a teenager in the late ’80s—when I read my first State Department cables. Along comes some fool with a thumb drive, and anyone can sound like a playa by saying “the USG.”
Before this winter, I thought I was cool, because I’d worked out this elaborate historical theory of how US (and before it British) foreign policy spreads global death and destruction by exporting revolution—an alternate, completely revised and completely reactionary version of the leftist national-guilt mythos. Such a theory could only be illustrated by the most obscure and obnoxious episodes of the 20th century, familiar to the entire educated audience if at all entirely as fiction. The OAS of General Salan; the Rhodesian Front of Ian Smith and PK van der Byl; the weird empire of Bao Dai; the Novo Estado of Dr. Salazar… Ordinary honest men know nothing of these stories, and the specialists in the field are all professional liars. If the truth exists, it is in books. Very obscure, hard-to-find and not unbiased books—often published by the John Birch Society.
I am not afraid of the John Birch Society, not even slightly a little bit at all. So, that was a niche. But now everyone has seen an exported revolution live in the news cycle. To see exactly how the thing is done, consult this excellent Washington Post article. The whore of Babylon is every day a little more naked, and quicker to chat “off the record:”
The scheme would unfold Thursday, with the only uncertainty being Mubarak’s fate. “There were two scenarios: He would either leave office, or he would transfer power,” said a U.S. government official who was briefed on the plan. “These were not speculative scenarios. There was solid information” and a carefully crafted script.
A carefully crafted script! Among the many Carter van Carter moments in this month’s production is the constant insistence that no one, absolutely no one, is producing this show:
So let me be clear. The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region. This change doesn’t represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life.
Because we’re America, and we never come in your mouth. I exchanged some emails on this subject with my father, who defends this organization as it after all employed him. He wrote:
I am not sure where you get that the USG wrote any script or, indeed, that there was any script at all. The smug shits in our press and political establishments have ways of talking that often bear no connection to reality, even as they sound great. For example, C. Rice testified after 9/11 that, prior to that date, the Bush administration was “at battle stations” in the country’s defense. Sounded great, but the factual record shows the opposite in almost every respect. In this vein, we talk about “scripts” and use phrases like “24/7.” Such language reflects good drafting, but it tells its audience little if anything, and it often misleads, even if that is not its intent.
I wrote back:
My interpretation of what happened between State and the Egyptian military is: State said to the Egyptian generals’ junta, whom it possibly even organized, “why don’t you send us a transition plan that says X, Y, and Z?” Rough draft of a Word document is enclosed. Egyptian interlocutor makes any required changes to Word document and releases it as First Communique of Egyptian Military Council.
Dad, the USG announced the retirement of Mubarak before Mubarak actually retired. They announced his retirement, then he refused to retire, so they had security escort him out of the building. His behavior was described as “defiant,” which it was. This simply is not a relationship between peers.
The whole point of State’s operation is to accumulate and protect these native clients, “contacts,” little brown brothers, etc. To make friends with the international community. It is missionary to its very core—at least, if you subtract the missionary mission, there is not much left but consular affairs. These could easily be handled without USG employees posted overseas.
Ah, my son, my son. Even if a diplomat were to manipulate a major nation as you suggest, he would do it in such a way as to make his interlocutor think that the idea came from the interlocutor himself. Let’s not be simplistic here.
Meanwhile, vast unintentional comedy was produced when the Hollywood revolution caravan took on its next target, Bahrain, which unknown to the New York Times or any of its co-conspirators is actually a civilized country. With people who speak English, and can actually post something articulate when Nicholas Kristof tries to wreck their country:
Having upset all the English speakers on the island, you are finally realising that the situation here is complex and there are faults on both sides of the divide. The majority of people living on the island are tired of the Shia gangs that set fires and throw Molotov cocktails at weekends and see the protests as a continuation of normal Bahraini politics. Sadly, the government’s reaction was horrific and people don’t support that either.
However, it would be quite wrong to see the people on Pearl Roundabout as the goodies. We know better than that. The Shia gangs that would be a very good story for you have been round areas in the past couple of days where many Indians live, shouting threatening slogans and intimidating the residents. Not long ago, one of the Shia gangs threw a Molotov cocktail at an Indian worker bicycling home from work and killed him.
Why don’t you find out about why none of the 70,000 expats here supports the protesters? Read the Gulf Daily News and find out exactly why you have become a hate figure in Bahrain with your intemperate and ignorant reporting of the complex situation here. We hope you will now write a piece applying proper standards of journalism and that it gets as much publicity as the inflammatory pieces you have written.
Not one commenter, of course, suggested that if Bahrain was so much like apartheid South Africa, perhaps transferring the government to the Bahraini equivalent of the ANC might not be the absolute best thing that humanity could do with Bahrain. But does Bahrain really matter? Surely, you’d think, humanity could be persuaded to lose interest in it for a decade or two.
But on a less comical note, the illusion of popular revolution in Egypt (it can be said at most that the crowd created a pretext for State to fire Mubarak, for the crowd was nothing without State’s protection) has produced the reality of civil war in Libya.
Yes, indeed, Libya is—or was—a genuine independent country! If not a pre-American one. The only way for a sovereign country to become and stay independent in the late 20th-century was to originate in an American-exported revolution (often one America officially opposed), then become extremely anti-American. (Also, you could have big gobs of oil. Or better yet, both.) Eventually, if you are anti-American enough, all your ties with Americans die off—even the anti-American Americans—and you can be a foreign country, of sorts. China has shown us perfection in this sequence. Libya has shown us… the personal magic of Colonel Qaddafi. Egypt, of course, was going there under Nasser, but fell off the wagon under Sadat and became a mere aid-puppet of the second rank. Always a dangerous position.
So a revolution in Egypt is fake. It may not end happily in the long run; I doubt it will; but in the short run, it’s no more than a reality-show coup. Government has changed hands—to the extent that Egypt, now, is governed by any entity but Foggy Bottom—and it’s a wrap. Everyone can party. It’s true that the party was cut a little short when one of the revolution’s producers was gang-raped by her own little brown brothers—so badly she spent five days in the hospital. Apparently either not everyone in that crowd was a doctor, a lawyer or a filmmaker. But who said they were? Really? And it’s a wrap.
But a revolution in Libya is real. This always happens: the fake revolutions start the real ones. Look at Poland in 1830 and 1863. Poor Poland thought she could have a national revolution, like Greece and Italy. She forgot that Greece and Italy had a coastline, and were thus exposed to the blessed radiance of the British Navy. Assisting national liberation wherever possible, for reasons purely enlightened.
Qaddafi’s Libya was nowhere near the relatively comfortable status of independence held by Russia and China—which could not be described as safe, just as relatively safe. (Even these great countries should, if they care to safeguard their sovereignty, withdraw from the UN, expel all foreigners, terminate educational exchanges and partition the Internet.) If anything Libya was swimming backward, for Washington—amoral as ever—had begun to woo her. Alas, she was anything but unresponsive. There is really not much good to be said about Qaddafi, although one can’t help but admire his masculine oratory and rakish, original dress.
But still: Qaddafi and his sons ruled in the old way, with nothing but their strong right arms. God bless the simplicity of these noble desert peoples! God keep them safe in their own countries, and out of ours! I’m struggling to think of a previous event in which someone has called in an airstrike on the mob. Grapeshot for a demonstration—yes. Machine guns? Naval artillery? It’s all been done. But an airstrike? Now that’s got to be some shock and awe. You’re just peacefully out demonstrating with your picket signs, ski masks and sharpened agricultural tools, when a MiG blasts in out of nowhere and gives you some GPS-guided love. Wow! Qaddafi, like the honey badger, just doesn’t give a shit.
As a human being, of course, I deplore the explosive power of modern antipersonnel weapons. But as an intellectual I can’t help but applaud what an airstrike on a demonstration does to the mythical power of crowds. The crowd always relies on the pretense of actual physical power; but actual physical power it has little or none. It can be dispersed, or better yet contained and captured, by a trivial military force. And if not—airstrikes! Tiananmen, without a single airstrike, popped the bubble of crowd power and brought peace to China for a generation. Peace in Libya is quite the remote prospect, but at least we’ll get some good television out of it. It’s a pity that the dramatic events so far have been so poorly recorded. Not to worry, however, for the international press corps is on its way.
I don’t mean to sound callous. I of course regret the Libyan civil war, which will inevitably leave this great part of the world, Rome’s breadbasket, Italy’s fourth shore, governed by scoundrels or worse scoundrels—if it is governed at all. If anarchy is the destiny of Africa, from Cairo to Cape, it is anything but a permanent fate. Rather, it is a fallow period for new orders to arise. Like Somalia, Libya for an indefinite period may simply be too dangerous for any foreign bureaucracy to send personnel to, which would make it independent in a sort of rough-and-ready way.
Like Somalia—like all the present-day “Third World”—the less contact such a devolved state has with the West, the better for both sides. Either it will develop its own indigenous, barbaric but vigorous, civilization, or it will be colonized again. Neither of which will happen any time soon. But if what exists is thoroughly rotten, the sooner anarchy and desolation comes, the better. Or at least, so one can argue.
And what is there worthwhile in Libya, really, besides the land itself and a few Roman ruins? The men? As far as I can tell, they make the average Egyptian look like a knight of the Round Table. War and barbarism will thin out the Libyans and improve the breed, perhaps, in a century two. And if not, we can always give the country back to the Italians.
But this is black humor, right? Who should win the Libyan civil war? Who are the good guys? We have to root for someone, right? Well, you can root for anyone you like. I prefer to be instructed by Carlyle:
When the Continental Nations have once got to the bottom of _their_ Augean Stable, and begun to have real enterprises based on the eternal facts again, our Foreign Office may again have extensive concerns with them. And at all times, and even now, there will remain the question to be sincerely put and wisely answered, What essential concern _has_ the British Nation with them and their enterprises? Any concern at all, except that of handsomely keeping apart from them? If so, what are the methods of best managing it?
At present, as was said, while Red Republic but clashes with foul Bureaucracy; and Nations, sunk in blind ignavia, demand a universal-suffrage Parliament to heal their wretchedness; and wild Anarchy and Phallus-Worship struggle with Sham-Kingship and extinct or galvanized Catholicism; and in the Cave of the Winds all manner of rotten waifs and wrecks are hurled against each other, –our English interest in the controversy, however huge said controversy grow, is quite trifling; we have only in a handsome manner to say to it: “Tumble and rage along, ye rotten waifs and wrecks; clash and collide as seems fittest to you; and smite each other into annihilation at your own good pleasure. In that huge conflict, dismal but unavoidable, we, thanks to our heroic ancestors, having got so far ahead of you, have now no interest at all. Our decided notion is, the dead ought to bury their dead in such a case: and so we have the honor to be, with distinguished consideration, your entirely devoted,–FLIMNAP, SEC. FOREIGN DEPARTMENT.”
I really think Flimnap, till truer times come, ought to treat much of his work in this way: cautious to give offence to his neighbors; resolute not to concern himself in any of their self-annihilating operations whatsoever.
Speaking of Sec. Flimnap, the other day I discovered a marvelous search engine for Hansard. This UI could hardly be improved for historical purposes. It left me perusing the Waterloo of the British Empire, the Suez Crisis—half farce and half tragedy. Perhaps the last articulate and competent stand against the 20th century is mounted by the fringe reactionaries of the Suez Group, like the Viscount Hinchingbrooke—later 10th Earl of Sandwich. After this moment, Parliament no longer matters; perhaps a moment worth remembering.
August 2, 1956 (Nasser has nationalized the Suez Canal).
Mr. Stanley Evans:
One thing this makes clear—perhaps the most important aspect of all. While the Anglo-American partnership endures, it certainly does not prosper. Unless I am greatly in error, we were dragged along like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail, following the decision of 19th July. I agree that it would have been very difficult, in the light of all the circumstances, for the Government to do other than they did, but I think that this debate presents us with an opportunity to ask our American friends where they are going. There seems to be a dual standard of values at work. Our American friends lose no sleep about their own continued occupation of Okinawa, but the sight of the British Army on the Suez lay like a ton of bricks on the American conscience. With them backing Nasser, the British had to go. The Americans saw nothing wrong in the occupation of half Europe by the Soviet Army, but when it came to Japan, no Russian soldier was allowed even a toe-hold.
It is this dual standard of values which characterises American diplomacy which is so frightening, and it seems to me that we are getting it again in the prolonged negotiations which are now taking place. Having sown the wind by the announcement of 19th July, they seem to me now to be seeking to escape the whirlwind by assuming the rôle of Pontius Pilate. This is an ignoble attitude on the part of a very great nation, with whom we are associated in a crusade against totalitarianism which it seems to take even more seriously than I do. I therefore think that this moment is a test most of all of Western solidarity and that its significance is not so much the future of the Canal, although I agreed that that is important. The most important issue of all is the issue of Western diplomatic, political and military solidarity.
The history in the Middle East of the last ten years is one of the constant undermining of British interests, authority and prestige by our American friends in that part of the world. The prevailing philosophy seems to be, “If we can get the British out, we go in, and afterwards a vigorous waving of dollar bills will provide a foreign policy in itself.”
I should have thought that this latest event might well cause our American friends to think again, because unless we can hammer out a Middle Eastern policy designed to achieve realisable goals and with a full recognition of each other’s interest, I fear that the day is not far distant when neither of us will have any interest in that area.
Sometimes I think that we too have our share of the blame for this failure of Anglo-American co-operation. It is nothing new for those who come down in the world to look down their noses at those who have taken their place, and I sometimes feel that the Foreign Office may suffer a little from this age-old failing of mankind.
I am not one of those who think in terms of an American bus with a British driver, American strength and British diplomacy. That is not how power works, and a firm grasp of the simple essentials of power is the first necessity for any practising politician. Equally, I accept that we are a junior partner in the Anglo-American partnership. But even junior partners have their rights. I am therefore bound to say that our friends seem extraordinarily near-sighted in relation to the rights of what, in the last resort, is their only firm and dependable ally.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has made an excellent speech, as he usually does. In his reference to Anglo-American relations at the present time, he has created an occasion on which I can naturally follow him, because I want to devote a few of the remarks which I shall inflict on the House this afternoon to that theme.
I wonder whether Mr. Foster Dulles, before he set out across the Atlantic in his aeroplane, studied the history of the United States at the time that the Panama Canal was opened. If not, I should like to suggest some reading to him for the return journey. It is from a volume called the Annual Register of 1903. I hope that in reading it the House will not think that I am following the example of that Archbishop of Canterbury who read heavily from the Salic Law to encourage Henry V to prosecute his wars with France. This is not the Salic Law, but American history.
As I read this, I should like the House to think of Colombia in terms of Egypt, Panama in terms of the Suez Canal, and the United States in terms of ourselves and France. The Register says: …
There are other excellent passages in this volume which I commend to hon. Members and to Mr. Dulles, but I will leave the matter at that. The quotation which I have read precedes another saying that this was all part of the Monroe Doctrine and that it formally established the United States in the hegemony of the Western world. Its hegemony has gone a good deal further than that and has now reached across the continents of the world.
The U.S.A. exemplifies and puts info effect the international theme on every possible occasion. The headquarters of the United Nations and the United Nations’ Agencies reside in the United States. When it came to post-war action in Korea, the United States acted first and secured diplomatic assistance afterwards, and we ourselves were instant in our readiness to go to her aid and follow her in.
Shame on that country now, shame, I regret to say, on the country which gave my mother birth that she should be behind us by days or even months in our endeavours jointly with the French to do for the Old World what she so successfully has done in the New. I believe that when the United States looks upon the isthmus of Suez in the same way as her history must look upon the isthmus of Panama, when she looks upon the essential international theme of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke today, supported in splendid words by the Leader of the Opposition, when she puts that in parallel with her action in the world of war in Korea and in the world of peace in the Agencies of the United Nations, she should feel herself compelled to respond and come to our aid with the least possible delay.
Mr. William Warbey:
I share in the reprobation expressed by all hon. Members who have spoken so far at the language, behaviour and manner of Colonel Nasser and his friends, I do not like dictatorships wherever they appear, whether they be in Egypt or Iraq, Guatemala or Czechoslovakia—and I particularly suspect dictatorships which rest upon military juntas, as in the case of Egypt.
At this stage it may be worth while to remind Colonel Nasser and his friends that the sterling balances, out of which they presumably hope to pay compensation to the shareholders in the Canal Company, were built up out of the supplies provided to British troops who defended them from Hitler’s aggression during the war, and that if that aggression had succeeded and Nazi power had been established, Nasser and his friends would have got very short shrift if they had not been Quisling puppets under his Government.
Having said that to the potential new Blimps in Egypt, it is worth while saying a few words also to the old Blimps in this House, especially those on the other side of the House who have expressed themselves in the past week in words and actions—and notably in the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). These old Blimps have already, by their intemperate words and actions in the past week, done incalcuable damage to the good name, prestige and well-being of our people.
That damage has been done, whatever may be the future outcome of events. They have done it because, if the outcome goes the way they want, namely, in the direction of the use of force by this country, it can result only in complete ruin and disaster for our people, and if it does not by the way they want—if, in the end we are compelled by circumstances to pursue courses of moderation, reason and the peaceful adjustment of this dispute—then, as a result of the language and behaviour of those hon. Members opposite, our country’s prestige will suffer enormously because, against the background of their language and their demands, the ultimate conduct of this country will appear to be a climb-down.
That is all the more true because the Government, by their silence and their calculated leaks to the Press, as well as by their actions, have appeared to give support to the intemperate language of the hon. Members behind them. They have appeared as though they were yielding to the clamour of the yelping tail behind them.
Mr. H. Fraser:
The “yelping tail”?
It appears that the tail is wagging the dog, and as the tail is wagging the dog it certainly appears that it is the tail which is doing the yelping and the dog which is giving way to it. Hon. Members opposite should realise that the days of Disraeli, in which some of them still live, are past. They should grow up and get out of that shadow and realise that we live in a different world today.
What about Stalin?
In the world today we cannot behave as Disraeli did, or as the United Nations did, as shown in the very amusing account which the noble Lord read to us—that amusing episode in the history of Imperialism. That is no longer possible in the world in which we live.
People in this country still hold different views on the question whether or not take-over bids are consistent with morality and propriety, but the take-over bid which Disraeli indulged in in 1876 was in character with the behaviour of great Powers of that time. They sought, by a variety of ways, to secure power over the peoples and resources of other countries. They sought to do it by means of force and economic sanctions, or by the mere use of money power to buy up property and property rights. That was Imperialism. That age is passing. Wherever things of that character are still done in any part of the world they have the taint of the carrion of Imperialism and of the dead meat of the dinosaur.
30 October 1956 (Britain is occupying Port Said under the thin pretext of intervening to separate the Israelis and Egyptians).
The difference between us—I am sorry to say this—lies in the action announced by the Prime Minister at the end of his statement which I read out at the beginning of my speech. Our first criticism of this is that it was taken independently by Britain and France at the very moment when this dispute was being referred to the Security Council. I cannot see any possible justification for that. Surely the right thing to have done would have been to have waited for the debate in the Security Council which was taking place this afternoon. Laughter.
When hon. Members laugh at the suggestion that we should await the outcome of a debate in the Security Council, I wonder if they realise what conclusion people who listen to them draw. They draw the conclusion that hon. Members who behave in that way have simply lost faith entirely in the United Nations. I do not associate the Front Bench with this, but I warn hon. Members opposite that if they go on like that, that is the impression they will create in the country.
It is not our business to decide on our own that we should take independent action, even if it be, or appear to be, from our point of view police action. There is nothing in the United Nations Charter which justifies any nation appointing itself as world policeman. The great danger of the situation is that if we can do this so can anybody else. That is my first criticism and, I beg the Prime Minister to believe, a very grave anxiety of ours in this matter. […] Our third criticism is that we are not satisfied with the degree of consultation which appears to have taken place either with other countries in the Commonwealth or with the United States of America. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) pressed that point this afternoon but did not get any answer.
I want to ask again tonight whether the other members of the Commonwealth were consulted on this, and what was their reaction. I put this seriously because we all know what the reaction of India was in the earlier stages. Interruption. Hon. Members who at one time, used to be rather proud, or appeared to be proud of the Commonwealth, had better be careful when they start laughing. If they go on in that way, they will go faster towards breaking it up than anything else they could do.
You broke it up. You threw it away.
We all know the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), and we do not take him terribly seriously.
I would therefore ask. What consultations took place with the Commonwealth, and what was the reaction of the other Commonwealth Governments? I would ask also whether the United States is in agreement with us on this. Is America supporting us? Is she giving us her full backing? If it comes to a vote in the Security Council on our action, if it is taken, can we be sure that the United States will vote with us, or are we doing this off our own bat without bothering whether the United States is going to support us or not?
October 31, 1956 (Britain has vetoed the US resolution in the Security Council).
Sir, this action involves not only the abandonment but a positive assault upon the three principles which have governed British foreign policy for, at any rate, the last ten years—solidarity with the Commonwealth, the Anglo-American Alliance and adherence to the Charter of the United Nations. I cannot but feel that some hon. Gentlemen opposite may have some concern for these consequences.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that he had been in close consultation with the Commonwealth. What were the results of this close consultation? I do not think that there was ever much doubt about what the attitude of the Government of India was likely to be, and we now know. There has now been a special announcement, and in case hon. Members have not seen it, I will read it, stating that the Government of India considers Israel’s aggression and the ultimatum of Britain and France a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and opposed to all the principles of the Bandung Conference .
The statement went on to say: The Government of India learn with profound concern of the Israeli aggression in Egyptian territories and the subsequent ultimatum delivered by the United Kingdom and France to the Egyptian Government which was to be followed by an Anglo-French invasion of Egyptian territory. I do not think that there is much doubt that substantially the same attitude is likely to be adopted by Pakistan and Ceylon. […] We are told that in this matter we have been in close communication with the United States. Those were the words which the Prime Minister used yesterday. 1457 And yet, even as late as yesterday afternoon, the State Department put out a notice to the effect that it had no prior intimation of what was going to be done. It is perfectly clear that no opportunity whatever for discussion with the United States was allowed or permitted.
I do not know how far the Prime Minister has had an opportunity of reading the dozens of messages, coming over the tape, which are showing the American reaction to his decision. He will be a little depressed, I am afraid, if he does. I will quote only one, which happens to have appeared in the Evening News and which, I think, summarises the position pretty well: The British and French decision to ignore President Eisenhower’s eleventh hour appeal to call off their armed intervention in Egypt has shocked and angered Washington. It is regarded not only as a reckless move which has brought the world to the edge of major war, but a calculated snub to President Eisenhower himself.
The fact that the news of the Anglo-French air drop came only hours after Britain had used its first United Nations veto to kill the American cease-fire proposal further outraged the Americans. There have been reports in the Press of what Mr. Dulles has said and what he has described as a “piece of trickery” on the part of Britain and France. Again, I can only say that those of us who feel as I do, and as I thought some hon. Members opposite felt, that the Anglo-American Alliance was the basis for the maintenance of peace, ought to be a little disturbed by the reports which are now coming in. […] There is, indeed, an even worse story which is going around and to which I hope we shall have some reference from the Government. It is the story that the whole business was a matter of collusion between the British and French Governments and the Government of Israel. I am asking that the Government indicate the truth about this. I will read again, if I may, a despatch from Washington on this subject, from the same newspaper:
There is no longer any doubt in the minds of American officials that Britain and France were in collusion with the Israelis from the beginning, and sanctioned the invasion of Egypt as an excuse to reoccupy the Canal Zone. Strenuous denials by British and French diplomats have failed to shake Washington’s conviction that this was the case. The despatch goes on : American opinion appears to be shared by virtually all delegations to the United Nations. It is also believed—and we cannot blame people for believing this—that the 12-hour ultimatum was decided upon precisely to prevent public opinion this time from operating effectively to stop the Government.
What will come out of all this? First, there is the question of Israel. I cannot believe that it is in the true interests of Israel to be associated with the reoccupation of the Canal Zone. After all, in the long run the people of Israel, somehow or other, have got to live with the Arab States. They are entitled to ask for proper security and again and again from these benches we have asked for that for them. But, if they are looked upon as simply “stooges” of Britain and France, a kind of advance guard of Western imperialism, then any prospect of a peaceful settlement with the Arab States is gravely endangered. To the many friends I have in Israel I make the appeal that they at least should now accept the resolution of the United Nations Security Council, insofar as it called upon them to withdraw their forces within their own frontiers, and do that forthwith.
In the Canal Zone we may seize territory, we may defeat—and, no doubt, will quite easily defeat—the Egyptian forces. Then what do we do? Do we stay there indefinitely? An HON. MEMBER : “Temporarily.” The hon. Member says that it is temporary. At what point do we leave the Canal Zone and what exactly are we to leave behind, except a legacy of bitterness and hatred greater than anything which has existed before? I must say, in passing, that the Prime Minister’s own comment today, that before we left we should have to make sure that this did not happen again, leads one to suppose that he has no real intention of evacuating the Canal. If he has, it is up to him to say the circumstances in which he thinks that withdrawal will be possible, even from his own point of view, but I cannot advise my hon. Friends to place very much reliance upon that.
There are even graver possibilities. The Arab States, as, of course, we all knew they would, have indicated their solidarity with Egypt. I do not know what kind of action they may take about oil supplies. It is possible that the intervention of America against us may be of some assistance there, and thank goodness for it. Does the Foreign Secretary, or the Prime Minister— HON. MEMBERS : “Oh.” Well, I should have thought that hon. Members might see an advantage, where the Arab world is concerned, in having at least one of the three major powers in the West indicating that it does not participate in, or support, our action in the Canal Zone.
Then there is, of course, the shadow of Russian intervention.
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R.A. Butler):
Does the right hon. Gentleman want that?
No, we do not hope for that, but we are bound to point out these dangers and, indeed, some of us supposed that the Lord Privy Seal would have had a little more courage than he appears to have shown and would have pointed them out inside the Cabinet. It is surely abundantly clear that the whole of this operation is simply another effort to dictate policy on the Canal Zone just at the point when a negotiated settlement appeared to be in sight. HON. MEMBERS : “Oh.” Yes, on the basis of the Indian plan, on which the Foreign Secretary, I am glad to say, recently made a not unfavourable comment.
There are wider implications in this matter, for this reckless and foolish decision has been taken just at the moment when events in Poland and Hungary had given the free world its greatest hope and encouragement for ten years. In the battle of ideas, to which the Prime Minister referred in a debate not so long ago, we could legitimately feel that the ideas of democracy and liberty had won a sensational and exciting victory. Now this act of the Government has done untold damage to the democratic cause throughout the world and, above all, in those vital, uncommitted areas of the world on which, we are all agreed, special concentration should be made.
Hon. Members may cheer their own Prime Minister and they may jeer at us and laugh at our faith in the United Nations and may rejoice—I know that some of them do—to be back in the days of the nineteenth century ; but all this, I ask them to believe me, will not stop the wave of hatred of Britain which they have stirred up. HON. MEMBERS : “Shame.” All this will not rebuild the shattered fabric of Anglo-American understanding ; all this will not restore unity in the Commonwealth ; all this will not make up for the deadly blow which the Government have dealt the United Nations.
We, as Her Majesty’s Opposition, have had to consider what attitude that we should adopt to the war on which the Government have so recklessly embarked ; we understand, let me say, the gravity of the decision we have to take. We were not, I repeat—and I make no complaint, I merely state it—consulted by the Government in this matter. They did not seek our consent and they indicated last night that we were completely free to make our own decisions.
I must now tell the Government and the country that we cannot support the action they have taken and that we shall feel bound by every constitutional means at our disposal to oppose it. I emphasise the word “constitutional.” We shall, of course, make no attempt to dissuade anybody from carrying out the orders of the Government, but we shall seek, through the influence of public opinion, to bring every pressure to bear upon the Government to withdraw from the impossible situation into which they have put us. As a first step to that end we shall move a Motion of censure in the strongest possible terms tomorrow.
We shall do that because we consider it our duty in the present crisis both to do everything in our power to save the country from the disasters which we believe will follow the course set by the Government and to proclaim to the world, loudly and clearly, that there are millions and millions of British people—as we believe the majority of our nation—who are deeply shocked by the aggressive policy of the Government and who still believe that it is both wise and right that we should stand by the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the United States Alliance. We shall do this because we believe that there are millions of people who think with us and who have lost all faith that such policies can any longer be pursued by the present advisers of Her Majesty.
I entertain at this moment the most profound feelings of disgust and degradation. In opening my speech I cannot bring myself to use the same style of formal, point by point, condemnation which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself used. The country will judge of that speech. In due time, editors, columnists and public men will deliberate upon it and will finally judge its basic content.
The conclusion will be that the speech represents the nadir of British fortunes, the most miserable depth to which this country has fallen. If it proves to be the final epitaph on the monstrous era of weakness and ineptitude into which Socialism led the country, following upon a dangerous and deadly war, a national weakness which only history will discover, then that may suffice. The nation may forget the speech and go on to higher and better things. I find myself opposed to every word that was said by the right hon. Gentleman, despite the cheers that echoed and re-echoed behind him.
I find myself proud to be living upon this day. An HON. MEMBER : “Put him into the Reserve.” On a previous occasion I detained the House with a speech in which I suggested that Britain and France, with or without the United States of America, should present an ultimatum to Egypt with a time limit attached to it. I was not asking for United Nations action, but I was asking that Britain and France, with or without the United States, should act in close association for the purpose of achieving what would ultimately become a great United Nations concept. I suggested that the ultimatum should be sent now to the Egyptians and that the date of its expiry should be governed by military considerations.
It, therefore, comes as a realisation of the tremendous opportunities which now 1464 confront this country and France, acting on behalf of world peace and order, for the maintenance of the great international waterway and free passage for the ships of all the world, to have heard the Prime Minister’s statement of policy yesterday. Behind the immediate military action to separate the two contending forces of Israel and Egypt is the grand concept which the Prime Minister laid before the House in August of the internationalisation of the Canal for all time. Interruption.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite utterly dislike any form of military activity. They have such a weak attitude to public policy that I can only suppose that they object to all physical exercise in any form. They should realise in time that when these actions have ceased there will be established the kind of international order which they basically favour, that is to say, the placing of international commerce in an international political setting. I beg them to understand that in six months, or it may be very much less, there will be appearing upon the international scene just those concepts of organisation and planning which appeal to their basic philosophic instincts.
I now come to deal with one other point which the right hon. Gentleman made last night and again today. That is that we should have waited until the Security Council had decided. The Security Council has decided. It has decided in condemnation of us and in condemnation of Israel. Are we to suggest that today we should be bound by the decision of the Security Council and allow this war to take place? What notice would the Israelis or the Egyptians take of a United Nations decision of that kind? They have never taken any notice before.
If we had not got in in advance of the Security Council those two nations would be tearing at each other’s throats today, instead of which, as a result of the brilliant planning and policy of my right hon. Friend and Her Majesty’s Government, we and the French will be placing ourselves four square across the Suez Canal to prevent those two nations from engaging each other. It is idle to say that we should, in these circumstances and at this time, after all the experience of the ineptitude and futility of the United Nations Security Council, have waited for this appalling result.
I want to say one word about the United States of America. I ventured in a speech which I made in August to use words in condemnation of America and I will not do so again today, although it comes as an appalling realisation of the state of our relations and the state of understanding in the world of what Britain really is and what her purpose is today to find the Americans vetoing this and arguing that. […] It seems to me that there is not enough realisation in the United States of how profoundly important to us and to Western Europe is the Suez Canal. The United States is a vast conglomerate of dependent States, 48 of them, united together after a major war. They constitute an enormous territory. We happen to be a maritime Empire. Taking it geographically, our situation is utterly different from theirs, but the concept of sovereignty is the same and the Suez Canal is every bit as important to us as the Hudson River to the United States.
If a Power went sailing up the Hudson River, Americans would leap to arms to reject them. If any Power threatens the sovereignty, peace and commerce of the Suez Canal, it is right that we and France should leap to arms to defend ourselves in that position because the Canal is the artery to various parts of the Empire. Looking back to the gunboat action which America took in 1903 over the Panama Canal, she should regard her words and policy today with shame and regret. I think that it would do no harm at all if Her Majesty’s Government themselves were to offer some mild condemnation of the attitude of the United States, seeing that we were foremost ourselves in supporting them in Korea, not so very long ago.
I have one final thing to say. One had hoped for a coalition view in the House. One had hoped that the realisation of the fundamental integrity and honour behind this policy would permeate to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. If there is to be no coalition view, as the Leader of the Opposition seemed to indicate, and if, this week-end, the party opposite is to depart to the country and campaign against the Government and carry out every sort of contemptuous attack upon Her Majesty’s Government, then let me warn them of this.
There is the strongest possibility and hope that the policy of Her Majesty’s Government will succeed beyond the wildest dreams of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is quite possible that we are entering into a new age in this country—to reverse the famous words of Burke—the age when chivalry began, and that of sophisters, economists and desiccated calculators died away.
If that is true, and our troops return home victorious, leaving an internationalised management of the Canal secured by civilian police, with the Middle East pacified, those troops returning in Khaki to the triumph which awaits them for what they have done, then it is conceivable that the Government might hold a General Election in which hon. Members opposite, having opposed the policy of the Government, will be swept into the dustbin of opposition for half a generation.
Mr. Arthur Henderson:
Whatever else the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has or has not done, he has certainly raised the fundamental issue which divides the supporters of the Government and hon. Members on this side of the House.
The noble Lord talked about our being on the threshold of a new age. I suggest that what he is advocating is a return to the nineteenth century and, indeed, almost to the Stone Age. He suggested that hon. Members on this side of the House were exhibiting signs of decadence, that we were afraid to fight and afraid of the physical side of life. I hope the noble Lord will agree that there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who have shown in the past that they were prepared to serve their country just as much and as well as those who sit with him.
If we took the view, as does the noble Lord, that this country and the Government are justified, because of what he called the procrastination and ineptitude of the United Nations, in formulating the “brilliant” plan to which he referred and which he said was now in operation, I cannot understand why the Prime Minister was so reluctant to answer the question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in view of the fact that apparently the noble Lord has received inside information to the effect that our troops are actually in Egypt at the present time. […] What is obvious to all of us in the House is the fact that the Government have completely lost faith in the United Nations as an effective international instrument for dealing with and solving the international problems that exist at the present time. That is a matter of very great regret, because as I said a moment ago, during the past thirty-odd years both parties have, broadly speaking, adhered to these international arrangements. It now seems from the speeches made yesterday, and especially from the speech of the Foreign Secretary, that the Government have completely lost their faith in the United Nations.
The whole tenor of the latter part of the Foreign Secretary’s speech yesterday was directed to establishing the fact that the United Nations was powerless and ineffective. I do not know how long that has been the view of the Government, but it seems regrettable that they should have taken at least five years before informing the House and the country that this is now their view. It seems that as long as other people’s interests are affected there is no question of the Government decrying the United Nations, but that when it is a question of British interests they say that the United Nations is powerless and ineffective. […] I will take, first, the question of frustration by the use of the veto. As my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition pointed out this afternoon, almost while the Foreign Secretary was making that criticism of the United Nations and of the Security Council the British representative, acting under the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s instructions, was playing his part in frustrating the Security Council by vetoing the United States resolution. It is interesting to note that for once—I do not think it has happened on many major occasions—the representative of the Soviet Union expressed his support of the United States resolution.
Again, as my right hon. Friend pointed out this afternoon, it is evident that had it not been for the obstruction of the French and British Governments, there would have been unanimity in the Council and action would have been taken on its authority within twenty-four hours of the meeting.
Mr. Hugh Fraser:
Action by whom?
I will deal with that question when I come to deal with the second criticism made by the Foreign Secretary to the effect that the Security Council cannot act immediately, but, first, I want to deal with this question of the veto.
It seems to me almost tragic that the British Government should have opposed the United States resolution. First, that resolution called on all nations to refrain from the use of force or threat of force in Egypt. Secondly, it called upon Israel to withdraw immediately its armed forces to behind the armistice line. Is it an argument which should lie in the mouth of the Foreign Secretary that there is something wrong with the Charter when his own Government were principally responsible for exercising the veto in order to prevent and obstruct the passing of that resolution?
I am not disputing or differing from the statement, made this afternoon by the Prime Minister and yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, about the difficulty in deciding what constitutes an act of aggression. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he stated that the Government of Israel, by crossing the Egyptian frontier, were guilty of aggression. But there are two types of aggression ; there is provoked aggression and unprovoked aggression, and certainly, whatever may be the degree of aggression which has characterised this incursion by Israeli forces into Egypt, I think there would be general agreement on both sides of the House and in the country that Israel has had to endure the most intense provocation from one or more of her Arab neighbours.
If we approach these problems from the standpoint of the Charter, one has to accept the fact that the Charter forbids aggression under any circumstances, and therefore I think it must be only right that the Security Council should have called on the Government of Israel to withdraw their forces immediately behind their established armistice lines. I cannot understand why the Government of this country object to the so-called aggressor, the Government of Israel, being called on to withdraw their troops in order to secure the end of the fighting which has taken place.
Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth):
What would the Security Council have done, had it reached a decision which the right hon. and learned Gentleman envisages?
… Then it is for the Security Council to employ the provisions in the Charter. The Council has the power to impose economic sanctions, and there is the moral power, the moral influence, of putting the Government of Israel into the position of defying the whole of the United Nations. With all its weaknesses that, in my view, is preferable to the position in which the hon. Gentleman and his associates are putting the Government of Egypt by making them have to accept or reject something put forward by two countries.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for explaining so fully, but may we try to get this quite clear? He says that it would have led to the whole of the United Nations being against Israel, and Israel being against the world, and so on. The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps referring to Israel, but we might have a reference to Egypt as well. They would have been against the world, if they had not done what the Security Council said. But what would have happened if they had been up against the whole Security Council, if they had refused to make peace, and the war had gone on? How would they have been stopped by the United Nations?
… I suggest to him that if Israel, or any other country, defies the United Nations and commits an act of aggression, they will be in the same position as North Korea when the North Koreans invaded South Korea, and the full weight of the United Nations would have to be, or could be, deployed against them.
Including Russian troops?
Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth):
Certainly, why not?
I am not going to be drawn into an argument about whether Russian troops should be brought in. I say that if we are to stand by the United Nations, we cannot have first-class and second-class countries in the United Nations ; and if Russia is prepared to implement her full obligations under the United Nations Charter, we should welcome that.
And could Great Britain, had any scrap of her greatness remained, resisted? In 1956, could she have broken away from USG and restored her independence, demonstrating live sovereignty by seizing the Canal and humiliating Nasser? It would have taken a figure larger than Anthony Eden, for sure.
Instead what Suez proved is that Britain had lost the most essential attribute of a real player: for the first time in a millennium, she was unable to lie and get away with it. Had she defined the State Department openly, blatantly and with resolution, she might have had a chance. She might have a chance now; she is weaker, but so are we. But she sneaked in, quivering with fear, and turned bright red when her name was called—like an amateur bankrobber. In 1956, not even the Earl of Sandwich was quite man enough to tell America, nobly, seriously and to her face, to go screw herself or at least steal someone else’s empire.
And America succeeded to Britain’s position: world leadership, which more or less consists of the power to lie and get away with it. To lie, and make the lie true: sovereignty in a nutshell. We, or rather our permanent and irresponsible government, are certainly not shy about using it. And look what we’ve made of the planet we stole! Security, peace and prosperity, everywhere and forever.