I have noticed a new distortion of thought in the British Left: I will call it the Suez Fallacy becasue it appeared to me most clearly in a report on opposition to the war among Labour constituency chairmen. The term that most of them used to describe the catastrophe they feared was “another Suez”. But there can never be another Suez. That is a moment which happens only once to empires; after the first time, you have no prestige nor power to lose. If anyone suffers a Suez moment as a result of a disastrous Iraqi war, it will be the Americans (with the parallel elegantly adorned by the fact that they, too, will have been egged on into imperial overstretch by the Israelis). Note, also, that Suez was a military victory for our lot. It was not the Egyptian Army, but the exercise of American diplomatic (“soft”) power that defeated the Brits. In that sense the Falklands changed nothing. Suez had established that we could not win wars even against third-rate powers that the Americans did not want us to fight. The Falklands showed that we could beat a third-rate power with American permission and help.
Of course, that’s not how the British political classes would like to see it. There is a kind of mass repression in British politics about the power and importance of America. Thus, to the Labour Party chirmen polled at the weekend, the real significance of Suez seems to have been its mark on the internal politics of the country: that it brought down a Prime Minister (not, though, his government, which went on to win the next election).
The Suez Fallacy, then, is an exaggerated belief in this country’s importance in the world. It’s very closely related to the classic, comical, Swedish self-importance in the period when all Swedish politicians believed or half-believed that the whole civilised world looked to them for moral leadership. It lends itself to unlimited fatuities, most recently in a leader in today’s Guardian about child abuse. references to follow. I am trying to stay off the net today, and get some work done.
Of course, the same denial is evident on the right as well: see the Telegraph‘s claim that the war should be justified in Britain’s mational interest, as if there would be the remotest fantasy of going to war if America weren’t doing so. There is a perfectly good argument for fighting the war i Brtian’s national interests, but it is too humiliating for even the Telgraph to make: it is that we can best, in fact only use our large and expensive army with American permission, so we may as well use it to curry favour with them. But to suggest there is an independent British national interest to be served by a war in Iraq is absurd and will not be persuasive.