Swimming with sharks

Foreign Affairs & Security
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Dr. Jon Stanley

 

Another day goes by and another western decadent journalist rumbles the plot. Yes it's true: we're completely riddled with Russian spies here at the Bow Group. When you see a conservative enjoying vodka at some bar, be very suspicious.

When he's chatting up an incredibly attractive Muscovite, be sure to rescue him from the honeytrap. By the way did I tell you, we're now totally Russian? I mean, really, big time Russian. Why else would we in this hyperreal world be backing Thatcher and Reagan's legacy? Why would be opposing Britain's membership of a federal Europe or worse - behaving in a most conservative way? 

It's obviously the Russians. They have for a century been the ultimate MacGuffin, the contrived element to stretch out an otherwise completely unviable plotline. Rather like the Mysterons with even more menacing, baritone accents. They have been ruthlessly conducting an epic plot to subvert us through their moral relativism, to convince us that, while they are not so great, neither are our own lot in Westminster.

Installing Keith Vaz onto the Justice and Home Affairs Select Committee is exactly the kind of the thing they do, what with their secret servers and their aforementioned honeytraps. Surely our own sceptered House would not do such a thing without the Russians? How could Hillary have sent and received and deleted all those emails with a shady KGB agent directing her against her better judgement.  

I'd kill for a Russian honeytrap right now, it sounds fabulous, but sadly I have not been pro-Russian enough it seems.

A honeytrap, a fistful of fifties, and a bottle of vodka would flip many a man to the Duma's dark service in a flash. The same type of man would also succumb so something far more sinister and empty: Gaslighting.  

This is the deliberate distortion of reality by false accusations and is an assault on decent minded people by charlatans. Democrats in America have long used fear of the Russians to trash their enemies and distract themselves from internal scandals. Kennedy’s, and perhaps the United States’ finest hour, was squaring off against Moscow during the Cuban crisis.

Once they survived that, a portion of them has always hungered for more. The British found an outlet for their anti-Russian fears in fiction, the Americans had no such luck.

After the formal end of the Cold War the West had the option of opening up to the East and embracing realpolitik. Bush was magnificent in handling the fall of the Berlin Wall. Iraq was fought back and contained in a very conservative way. And then Bill showed up.

The former governor of Arkansas handled Russia about as badly as one could. The scenes of him laughing and propping up a drunk Yeltsin inflicted a deep wound in the post-Soviet psyche that was too much. So too was the acceptance of a 1996 re-election of Yeltsin that had more rigging that the Spanish Treasure Fleet. We could not have enjoyed the public humiliation of our former enemy more if we tried.

What followed was a crash course in larceny, nepotism, scandal and military catastrophe in Chechnya. The demoralisation, that the KGB so envisaged for the West (and it's finally here by the way) hit Russia first and hit it hard. We will never know that could have happened if Bush had stayed on another four years. Our relationship with Moscow could have been completely different. Putin was Russia's only hope and still is. When the main opposition leader makes Corbyn look refreshing and moderate is it a wonder Putin's ratings are so high?  

When Putin first appeared his first take was sorting Chechnya out. One can hardly argue he did not. Total, unyielding will to victory annihilated of the most vicious Islamist movements at a time when the West could see neither wrong nor risk in it. But this was not Putin's darkest moment. No, that came sometime later.

Sovereign democracy has been a project Putin and his allies have nurtured carefully. Complete intolerance of foreign interference, social conservatism, national pride and a credible military force are its hallmarks. To those who complain that Russia uses subterfuge, intelligence, guile, statecraft, populism and strongarm tactics to achieve its will I have two notes of caution:

The first is that the UK in its finest years did all of these and more. The USA does it now. It's what grown up countries in a shrinking world have to do; to grow a darker side and display a public ambivalence to it. After 40 years in the EU some of our own lack the stomach for this side of international relations that proved essential to us during the Cold War.

The second is that throughout the ages there are portraits of passionate men, cruel men, brilliant men and pensive men. Jealous men? Jealous women? There are few of these because few patrons would ever have themselves remembered in this way, which beggars belief why gaslighters in Britain seem keen to display their feelings so openly. The only way to resist gaslighting is to be comfortable, not proud, and confident in your own convictions. 

When the seas swirl and the stars are clouded over the ship has only one thing to guide it: its own compass. Conservatives have an understated confidence in their principles and rightly so.

It is sage not to want war, to explore many possible alliances and none when negotiating with Europe. How can we seriously take up our place in global bodies in our own right when we insist on coming to the table sharpening our knives in full view? 

That isn't bold; it's graceless. It's also crass and it is by its nature self-limiting by defining ourselves by who we don't like or trust as if that figleafs for the lack of direction we currently so openly display.

Gaslighting conservatives as pro-Russian is an old and oft abused practice used by the rudderless elite who lack any positive external frame of reference for the country. That's hardly surprising when they clearly don't believe in it.

One wonders if they stop to ponder the impact this has on Russian speakers here in the UK. Is so bad an idea to be pro-Russian while keeping a safe distance from Putin's court? Are we anti-Chinese? If we were, would it do us any good at all? Does anyone really think China is less of a threat to our security than Russia? How can we consider letting China build our infrastructure while panicking that those evil Russians are busy subverting our masters? Show me a government minister who hasn't cheered enhanced cooperation with Beijing.

We have always swam with sharks and we ruled the waves for centuries for that reason: to keep them at bay.

That buccaneering spirit kept out options and markets open and served us well. This constant, century old, focal obsession with Moscow is contrived and is unhealthy. It does not help our intelligence services to ramp up rhetoric and shut off opportunities. It harms our own society and democracy to gaslight those who have a healthy neutral stance to great powers. Eurasia will always be Eurasia but unlike in Orwell's 1984, we don't always have to be at war with it.

Those out there who cannot swim in the big blue sea of international relations have no mandate to hold back the rest of us and are free to drown in their paranoia.

We are pro-British conservatives and we will deal with the rest of the world one way or another in the spirit of making our nation the best it can be. We're prepared to sit down and talk with anyone, confident we are more than a star on someone else's flag.

Dr. Jon Stanley is Health Research Fellow at the Bow Group, a Junior Doctor and a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons