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The Politics of Good Intentions

The Politics of Good Intentions: History, Fear and Hypocrisy in the New World Order

DAVID RUNCIMAN
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t2sk
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    Book Description:

    Tony Blair has often said that he wishes history to judge the great political controversies of the early twenty-first century--above all, the actions he has undertaken in alliance with George W. Bush. This book is the first attempt to fulfill that wish, using the long history of the modern state to put the events of recent years--the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the falling out between Europe and the United States--in their proper perspective. It also dissects the way that politicians like Blair and Bush have used and abused history to justify the new world order they are creating.

    Many books about international politics since 9/11 contend that either everything changed or nothing changed on that fateful day. This book identifies what is new about contemporary politics but also how what is new has been exploited in ways that are all too familiar. It compares recent political events with other crises in the history of modern politics--political and intellectual, ranging from seventeenth-century England to Weimar Germany--to argue that the risks of the present crisis have been exaggerated, manipulated, and misunderstood.

    David Runciman argues that there are three kinds of time at work in contemporary politics: news time, election time, and historical time. It is all too easy to get caught up in news time and election time, he writes. This book is about viewing the threats and challenges we face in real historical time.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2712-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION: SEPTEMBER 11 AND THE NEW WORLD ORDER
    (pp. 1-28)

    Did September 11, 2001, really change the world? This question was being asked across the globe within hours of the attacks taking place. But within days, it had become clear that there was to be no consensus on the answer. In Britain, at one remove from the raw emotion being felt in the United States, political commentators wasted no time in setting out their opposed positions. On 13 September, writing inThe Guardian, Hugo Young, the most measured and reasonable of British political observers, declared:

    What happened on September 11th, 2001, changed the course of human history. We cannot yet...

  5. PART ONE Tony Blair, History and Risk

    • CHAPTER TWO TONY BLAIR AND THE POLITICS OF GOOD INTENTIONS
      (pp. 31-54)

      On 1 April 2003,The Guardiannewspaper admonished the British Prime Minister to remember the importance of living up to his good intentions in the Middle East, in the following terms:

      Putting Iraq to rights, in Mr Blair’s view, should be the whole world’s business. The more that all nations make common cause to do this, the better. The less this happens, the more vital it is to balance any absence of common cause with a sense of equitable and humanitarian initiatives—on the Middle East and on reconstruction in particular—which can help establish what Disraeli, seeking to justify...

    • CHAPTER THREE TAKING A CHANCE ON WAR: THE WORST-CASE SCENARIOS
      (pp. 55-66)

      On 5 March 2004, Tony Blair gave a speech in his Sedgefield constituency in which he sought to justify his actions in Iraq by emphasizing the unprecedented threat that global terrorism poses to the civilized world. He called this threat “real and existential”, and he argued that politicians had no choice but to confront it “whatever the political cost”.¹ This is because the alternative—the possibility that terrorists might get their hands on WMD—was too awful to contemplate. In the days that followed, this speech, like everything else Blair has said and done with reference to Iraq, was picked...

    • CHAPTER FOUR TAKING A CHANCE ON WAR: SUEZ AND IRAQ
      (pp. 67-80)

      There was a time, during the spring and summer of 2004, when it briefly looked as though Iraq might turn out to be Tony Blair’s Suez, and destroy him. The parallels were certainly striking, and Blair’s critics were not slow to point them out. First, there was the strong suspicion that, like Suez, the whole Iraq escapade was the result of a private deal cooked up between the belligerents. The decision to send British and French troops to Egypt in 1956 was sealed during a secret meeting at Sèvres in France, where British, French and Israeli representatives agreed on a...

    • CHAPTER FIVE WHO KNOWS BEST?
      (pp. 81-102)

      The degree to which British politics has been dominated in recent years by the risk personality of a single politician has done nothing to diminish the widespread distrust that is currently felt towards elected politicians in general. The highly personal nature of Blair’s approach to the risks of war with Iraq, coupled with the ruthless way he exploited those risks to secure his own political survival, has inevitably led many people to wonder whether any Prime Minister should be allowed to place such faith in their own judgment. Equally, the relative ease with which Blair was able to co-opt the...

    • CHAPTER SIX WEIMAR IRAQ
      (pp. 103-120)

      Tony Blair has admitted some mistakes in his use of the intelligence that served to justify taking Britain to war in 2003, but he has not been willing to admit that anyone else could have done any better. He has also consistently argued that questions about his personal judgment, and the messy business of who knew what when, can ultimately be discounted in the face of the wider judgment to which the Iraq war will be subjected: the judgment of history. Alongside the rhetoric of good intentions, and the rhetoric of risk, and the rhetoric of decision, Blair has regularly...

  6. PART TWO Britain, Europe and the United States

    • CHAPTER SEVEN A BEAR ARMED WITH A GUN
      (pp. 123-134)

      Thomas Hobbes, in one of the best-known and most abused phrases in the English language, described the life of man in a state of nature as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short”.¹ Less famous, but almost as notorious, is Hobbes’s contention that the states that human beings create in order to escape the misery of their natural condition are subject only to the laws that produced that misery in the first place. “The Law of Nations,” Hobbes wrote, “and the Law of Nature, is the same thing. And every Soveraign hath the same Right, in procuring the safety of his...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT THE GARDEN, THE PARK, THE MEADOW
      (pp. 135-154)

      Imagine that in the near future another terrible famine strikes sub-Saharan Africa, at a time when most Western governments are preoccupied with fighting and funding the never-ending war on terrorism. The ghastly images are duly laid out for public consumption on the nightly news, but the public is jaded by too many images of a suffering world. Then one of the better-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) offers individuals the chance to “adopt” particular children or families in the refugee camps, and to keep an eye on their progress through a direct videolink to their mobile phone. Instead of neatly written letters...

    • CHAPTER NINE TWO REVOLUTIONS, ONE REVOLUTIONARY
      (pp. 155-174)

      Evidence of how difficult it may be to sustain any coherent vision of a new world order has been in plentiful supply in recent years, following the American decision to impose its own particular political vision on Iraq. The consequent breakdown in relations between the United States and some of its longstanding allies, above all France, reveals just how easy it still is for states to fall out with one another, notwithstanding the homogenizing forces at work in international affairs. Indeed, the clash between the United States and France was in many ways made worse by all the things that...

    • CHAPTER TEN EPILOGUE: VIRTUAL POLITICS
      (pp. 175-190)

      There often seems to be something unreal about contemporary politics. Certainly, politics seems unreal to many of the people who have lost interest in it. The complaint of those who increasingly choose not to vote, to participate, to follow, to take any interest at all in the doings of their elected representatives, is that politics means nothing to them. It is a game, played by initiates for their own delight, cheered on by their hangers-on in the media, who understand the rules but can no longer explain them to their diminishing, distracted, fragmented audiences. Of course, the politicians and their...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 191-206)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 207-211)