I’ve just been finishing off John Gray’s Heresies, Against Progress and Other Illusions, published in 2004. We still had a Blair government then, we had Bush in the White House and Saddam Hussein was in hiding. It makes for an interesting read to see with the benefit of hindsight how Gray’s prognosis of the international scene actually worked out. The final judgement of history on those days has yet to be delivered—we’re only talking 15 years ago—but Gray is generally on the mark. His piece ‘For Europe’s sake, Britain must stay out,’ written in May 2003 is especially prescient. Staying out then was staying out of the Eurozone, not the E.U. Gray’s argument was that if Britain had less influence in Europe, the E.U. would be a more powerful counter balance to the U.S. We saw the most powerful demonstration of our fraught U.S./E.U. ‘bridge’ act in the run-up to the Iraq war, when most European leaders, led by Jacques Chirac opposed Bush’s war. Blair’s only role was not to gain influence with Bush, but to give W's non-United Nations approved war some smattering of legitimacy.
Today, the Middle East predictably continues to muddy U.S./E.U. relations. Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal; Trump’s unilateral blessing of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; his fraught stand-off with Russia over Syria (with consequences in Turkey). The inconsistency of American foreign policy stands in marked contrast to the hammered out position of Europe, which is developed through what is necessarily a more collegiate approach.
Now we are navigating similar waters, with the obvious consequences of Brexit and a Trump White House combining to make us an even less significant player in international politics. A country adrift, waiting to be picked up by the pirates of the Potomac. Perhaps, as Gray suggested in 2003, Europe would be better off without us. Which in my mind reconfirms my view that we would be better off with them. I am willing to bet that future U.K. Prime Ministers (not this one) will be champing at the bit to get back into European modes of thinking. As the saying goes, you won’t know the value of something until you’ve lost it.
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