Gideon Rachman pushes back on the idea that Britain is turning away from the world:
But a willingness to drop bombs on the Middle East is not the only measure of internationalism [bold mine-DL]. And the idea that Mr Cameron’s Britain is turning into a sleepy and cramped Little England is very wide of the mark.
As I’ve said before, the claim that Britain is “retreating” is at best an exaggerated one and at worst a lie. There are undoubtedly interventionists in the U.S. and Britain that think Britain should continue to be as hyperactive in overseas meddling as it was during the Blair years, but there is no popular support for that kind of foreign policy. Besides, Britain doesn’t have the resources to fritter away on such adventurism even if there were support for it. There is so much more to international engagement than a government’s willingness to plunge into foreign conflicts. It is a reflection of how warped our debates have been by the militarization of foreign policy in both the U.S. and Britain over the last fifteen years that anyone seriously thinks that a refusal to embark on an illegal war in Syria, for example, represents a withdrawal from the international stage. Properly understood, refusing to attack another country illegally should be considered an affirmation of internationalism rather than its negation.
Rachman says that the Syria debate showed that Britain had “decided that it was going to turn in its deputy sheriff’s badge,” which is a euphemistic way of saying that the British have understandably grown tired of fighting unnecessary wars unconnected to their security. To treat this as proof that Britain is “turning inward” is akin to calling someone a recluse because he chooses not to shoot a stranger on the other side of the street. Hawkish interventionists would very much like to pretend that they are the only internationalists and that everyone else favors “retreat” from the world, but that’s obviously not true and this idea needs to be refuted as often as possible.