Lecturing the Americans

Those currently lecturing the Americans about how they "must" behave almost always strike a woefully inappropriate note. "Mr Blair has his work cut out to persuade America to behave in line with the norms of international law. But that does not mean it is not worth trying, even at the risk of offending Britain’s closest ally" – the Observer editorial yesterday. "The Geneva Convention is there to provide a floor below which civilised nations shouldn’t fall. Britain is a civilised nation: we must ["must"!] insist ["insist"!!] that our allies stick by that civilised standard" – Tony Lloyd, the lugubrious former FCO minister, speaking on yesterday’s Frost programme. Don’t these solemn scolds realise how impatiently members of this American administration will shrug off such impertinence, in the admittedly unlikely event that they ever come to hear of it? Remarks like these once again demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of Britain’s limited power and influence in the modern world, especially in its dealings with an American government which has shown that it prefers to act unilaterally in international affairs and that it attaches little or no weight to public opinion outside the USA. It certainly isn’t isolationist: after 9/11, it’s clearly prepared to intervene anywhere to protect its interests and to punish or deter those who threaten them. Those who wag their fingers at such wickedness ought to remember how Britain behaved when "we" were the world’s sole super-power. Scolding the Americans at a time like this is a laughable waste of breath. As the admirable Matthew Parris wrote in the Times on 19 January, "Be sure that frantic private telegrams are winging their way over the Atlantic explaining the embarrassment this [the treatment of the prisoners] is causing Mr Blair. Be equally sure where Mr Bush is putting them."