It comes to something when not merely are government ministers more childish and recklessly insecure than service chiefs, but British ministers are, if anything, even worse than French ones. For easily the most pitiable instance of this alarming trait this century, we have the dismal news that we’re tagging along in the wake of an American show of force in the Persian gulf because the French are. One miserable frigate makes, of course, absolutely no military contribution whatsoever to this force, as the USN so pointedly pointed out. Yet the sort of government David Cameron runs feels obliged to make this insensible gesture for fear of whatever fateful, nameless thing would happen if just the French alone were allowed to be this stupid. No doubt a ‘signal is being sent’, but to what effect? That we’re going to double down on the triumph that has been Britain’s unnecessary intervention in an American war in Iraq? Already the usual Foxite nitwitteries have been offered about how the fact that we could only proffer the poor Argyll supposedly shows that the Coalition cuts to the MoD are denuding us of capacity and, God help us, ‘influence’. While the cuts are disastrously misplaced, it is precisely not because we can no longer be foolhardy in this fashion: self-evidently we can be and are being. What’s so wrong here is the policy that sends us to the very madness of wanting to take part in a strategy we don’t support, know won’t work and wouldn’t need us even if it was both feasible and right.
This isn’t simply a matter of small, trivial things such as listening to James Clapper – the US’s Director of National Intelligence – when he tells the Senate in open session that far from having the bomb, Iran hasn’t even yet decided for sure whether it would like to. It’s to do with our fundamental inability to learn from past, recent mistakes: Iraq didn’t work. It didn’t work as a goal of British statecraft. It didn’t achieve the goals we hoped it would when we embarked upon it. It hasn’t, by happy accident, created a stable or satisfactory environment for British policy despite our original misapprehensions and subsequent multiple failures. Why then would any, profoundly militarily immaterial, British tacked-on intervention in Iran serve us any better? What has changed between what happened in Iraq and what would happen in Iran? Note that this is not an argument against American intervention in Iran (or anywhere else west of Rockall), it’s a question as to what the need is for Britain to lay her hands upon any or all US actions. What do they suffer by us not taking part? What do we suffer by not taking part? Convincing, and this time, honest answers need to be shown since spilling British blood should always only be a matter of need.
This century has every bit as good a chance of being even more bloody than the last one was. Lunatic efforts to encircle China are as dreadful a place as any to start building up the charnel house. If we so idly blunder into other states’ wars of choice in the Middle East, why not further yet? We can’t stop others from being fools and savages: we ought to be able to restrain ourselves. Whether or not Iran is our problem, we’re incontestably not going to be its solution. If there was ever any faint good that could come from having Nick Clegg in office, it lies in his keeping us out of this sheer waste.