War war…just listen to the way they talk tough in London

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 15, 2024
Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

On Sunday, January 14, it was Britain’s foreign secretary David Cameron.

On Monday, January 15, it was UK defense secretary Grant Shapps.

Both sounded the alarm about what their boss, Rishi Sunak has called the world’s most unstable period “in decades”.

Both said their government was upholding peace by talking war, or at the very least, by suitably warlike talk with a preliminary round of military strikes thrown in.

Lord Cameron, to use the title bestowed upon the former prime minister on his November accession to the post of foreign secretary, took a turn on the world stage with a soundbite meant to indicate his government had serious smarts. The “lights are absolutely flashing red” on the global dashboard, he said. However, the solution he offered wasn’t to stop at the red light and take stock. Instead, it sounded like he wanted to accelerate, crashing through anyone and anything in the way. He insisted that airstrikes against Houthi sites in Yemen were necessary to prevent future attacks by the group and that it was somehow a British obligation to keep the world safe and free to trade.

Twenty-four hours later, Lord Cameron’s cabinet colleague delivered a major speech in London in a bid to supposedly outline the perils of a new world of disorder. “An age of idealism is being replaced by a period of hard-headed realism,” said Defense Secretary Shapps, “We’ve come full circle, moving from a postwar to prewar world”. And he argued for more military spending and more men and women at arms.

Both Lord Cameron and Mr Shapps refused to countenance the possibility that the Houthis’ call for a ceasefire in Gaza was, in any way, either reasonable or right.

Instead, the UK foreign secretary declared: “If you don’t act against the Houthis in the Red Sea, you are going to see more attacks, they are effectively terroristic attacks, you will see more of that”. He added that any Houthi reservations about the Palestinian peoples’ plight were immaterial, and so was any suggestion by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Nato ally Turkey, that a ceasefire in Gaza is the starting point of a solution.

And Mr Shapps put in that there was no connection between Houthi attacks and the Israeli operations in Gaza. He dismissed the Houthi claim that their attacks on shipping are aimed at Israel following its war on Gaza in response to the October 7 massacres by Hamas: “I know the Houthis are saying that it’s somehow connected, but actually, 50 different nations have had their ships attacked, so it quite clearly isn’t actually connected,” he said.

Listen carefully to the sounds emitting from London and what do you hear? Not conversation as we understand it, but babble, tough talk, the speak-loudly-and-carry-a-big-stick school of foreign policy. The gung-ho and tone-deaf pronouncements of the British government feel like slightly old-fashioned slapstick, a performance as out of time as the fact that Britain has a “lord something” as its chief diplomat for the first time in more than 40 years.

It says something that Britain is almost pushing everyone opposed to the brutal war on the Palestinian people to defend the Houthis!

In contrast, it is to China’s credit that it is calling for a large-scale and effective international peace conference to discuss both the Israel-Hamas conflict and a concrete timetable to implement a two-state solution.

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, who will spend much of the week travelling through Egypt, Tunisia, Togo and the Ivory Coast, is behaving very unlike his UK counterpart. He’s speaking pretty softly.

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