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The Warsi Resignation and U.K. Foreign Policy

The Economist‘s Blighty blog comments [1] on Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation [2] from the Cabinet over the British government’s position on the Gaza conflict. The author compares the current debate in the U.K. to divisions while Blair was in office:

But Lady Warsi’s departure is about more than just squabbles in the Conservative Party. Doubtless, these had not left her well-disposed to the prime minister, but there is nothing to suggest that her immediate reasons for resigning were other than those given in her letter: “our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.” She reiterated these points in an interview with Mehdi Hasan of the Huffington Post [3].

Though relatively little of the reaction to Lady Warsi’s decision has concerned this aspect, it is significant. The language—and subject—recall the years of Tony Blair’s leadership, and specifically his role in the Iraq War and his outspoken support for Israel in its 2006 war with Lebanon. Not since that era has British politics been so divided over global affairs (the EU being more a domestic concern than a foreign one, and differences between the two main parties over Syria last year having been more marginal than many realise).

The resignation is another instance of Cameron’s more or less reliably hawkish foreign policy blowing up in his face as it also did last fall, but there are two notable differences between this episode and Parliament’s rejection of British intervention in Syria last year. The first is that Cameron’s policy is being trashed in public by a longstanding political ally and member of the Cabinet, while opposition to war in Syria among Tories came from the party’s backbenchers. Both episodes were embarrassments for Cameron, but this one appears to have more potential [4] to do political harm to the Conservatives’ general election chances next year. Oddly enough, Cameron’s foiled attempt to take Britain into another unnecessary war last year may prove to be less damaging to his government than Britain’s modestly “pro-Israel” position on Gaza. In any case, these divisions over foreign policy are likely to keep cropping up as long as the British government keeps pursuing a foreign policy that is far more hawkish than most people in Britain want.

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20 Comments To "The Warsi Resignation and U.K. Foreign Policy"

#1 Comment By German_Reader On August 5, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

“Both episodes were embarrassments for Cameron, but this one appears to have more potential to do political harm to the Conservatives’ general election chances next year”

I think you’re totally mistaken about this. My impression is that Warsi was always regarded by rank and file conservatives in Britain as someone who, because of her religious and ethnic background, was promoted way beyond her capabilities, in an effort to show the Tories were no longer “nasty” but had embraced the multicultural sensibilities of Guardian readers and become suitably pro-Islamic. This was obviously widely resented by the Conservatives’ base – affirmative action isn’t popular in Britain either (nor are Pakistanis). And Warsi’s resignation won’t be regarded as some admirable act of selfless idealism speaking truth to power, but as what it is: merely tribalist Muslim solidarity with other Muslims.
Cameron’s still an idiot, but getting rid of people like Warsi will probably be an advantage for him; at least it’s hard to see how her resignation could affect the Conservatives’ chances negatively.

#2 Comment By collin On August 5, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

On other hand, this might be more of concern for Israel long term. The resignation itself is fairly minor but if it hurts the conservative cause in Britian then Britian might changing it course on Israel.

It should be noted that all polls are showing younger people are less likely to support Israel in the States.

#3 Comment By German_Reader On August 5, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

“It should be noted that all polls are showing younger people are less likely to support Israel in the States.”

Britain’s different from the US, it has a large population of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and frankly, they’ve caused a lot of problems and are the least well-integrated Muslim minority in all of Europe, with the highest levels of Islamic radicalism. No doubt many patriotic, conservative Britons have little desire for further pointless wars, and many probably don’t have exactly warm feelings towards Israel (with its hero-worship of anti-British terrorists like Begin and Shamir). But that doesn’t mean they have much sympathy for the kind of Muslim identity politics represented by Warsi either.

#4 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 5, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

For either side of the debate, many of the issues I am aware of and was completely blessed to have found one of the original negotiators while I was in the Uk. it was an eye opener.

But the following post addresses many of the same information relayed during my visit.

[5]

I love and appreciate Israel, but one cannot say it often enough. She is not always right and she must engage in some manner of genuine discussion that results in a change of behavior.

#5 Comment By Steven H On August 5, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

Warsi was only appointed as a token to the Muslim community in Britain. Her erratic behaviour and ideas don’t really merit any discussion.

If Larison thinks that Cameron is a hawk, I am curious to see what he thinks of the Canadian Prime Minister.

#6 Comment By Pete R. On August 5, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

As Iain Martin’s blog post in the Telegraph (linked within Larison’s piece above) points out, the Tories have been trying to woo voters from that large Muslim population in the UK, with some notable but still shaky success, and Warsi’s resignation hurts them in that respect. One might think from readers’ comments made in this thread that most of those “tribal” and “radical” (if they disapprove of genocidal campaigns against Palestinians) British Muslims didn’t have voting rights, and that Warsi’s appointment was only made to impress “multiculturalist” bleeding heart “Guardian-reader” types over there. But the UK, whatever criticisms it may merit, is not Israel.

#7 Comment By Henri James On August 5, 2014 @ 8:10 pm

RE: Steve H

No one cares what Stephen Harper thinks with respect to Israel, it affects almost nothing. It is indeed disgusting, but no one cares. He pantomimes the most recent American Republican line and leaves it at that.

#8 Comment By German_reader On August 5, 2014 @ 8:17 pm

“Warsi’s resignation hurts them in that respect. ”

Most Muslims in the UK will never vote for the Conservatives anyway, trying to please them is a fool’s errand (and what exactly should Britain do anyway about Gaza? Unlike the US it’s not resupplying the Israelis with armaments, its role and influence in the region is much more limited).
Cameron should be more concerned about how his “modernization” of the Tories (which includes pandering to the likes of Warsi) has eroded their core constituency. The rise of UKIP (to a large degree due to opposition to mass immigration) is much more important and dangerous to the Tories than anything connected to Gaza and Muslims’ sensibilities.

#9 Comment By Madhu On August 6, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

German Reader makes good points, the UK through its Pakistani heritage population and its strange relationship with Pakistan (India wouldn’t host any bases to spy on the Soviets so where were they to go for a client after they were kicked out?) has a very complex relationship to interventionism and militarism on the subcontinent.

Not understanding this hurt us badly in Afghanistan, and it has hurt the peoples of that region badly too. Baroness Warsi belongs to a connected group of elites that live in the West but have complicated political and business relationships to the country. You might want to look up the leader of MQM….

To my great disappointment, non-interventionists and libertarians, as well as liberal interventionists, and the American Right, are pretty bad at understanding these phenomena outside the domestic American conversation.

Feel free to add Indian diasporas too, or Russian, or Polish, or Israeli, or British, what ever else you’d like. The nature of diasporas and their connection to host countries is actually quite interesting outside the shallow conversation of lobbies. Well, good conversation of lobbies is fine, shallow bad 🙂

Don’t mind me, just pontificating.

#10 Comment By scott On August 6, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

I guess caring about people getting slaughtered for no discernible reason makes you somekinda awful Muslim tribalist identity politician. Or a worthless token. Interesting insights into the smellier corners of the psyche on this thread.

#11 Comment By German_reader On August 6, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

“I guess caring about people getting slaughtered for no discernible reason makes you somekinda awful Muslim tribalist identity politician.”

Warsi is motivated by Muslim tribalism, she even tried to undermine the British government’s efforts to combat Islamic extremism in the UK (which is a very serious problem); instead she preferred to pontificate about Muslim victimhood, “Islamophobia” etc.
There’s nothing wrong with criticising Israel’s actions for humanitarian reasons (and indeed I’d agree that the death toll among civilians in Gaza is appalling), but sorry, it’s difficult not to get the impression that many Muslims care that much about Palestine mostly because they see it as an attack and insult against the umma (as opposed to the depredations of ISIS for example which seems intent on “cleansing” the area under its control of numerous minorities). That’s a legitimate point of view, but why should it engender much sympathy among non-Muslims?

#12 Comment By Just Dropping By On August 6, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

@German_reader: While the UK does not provide Israel the kind of financial and military assistance that the US does, the UK sometimes votes with the US in the UN Security Council to block resolutions aimed at Israel, which is valuable from a public relations perspective.

#13 Comment By Whistle in the Wind On August 6, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

@madhu “The nature of diasporas and their connection to host countries is actually quite interesting outside the shallow conversation of lobbies. “

That may be true of Britain, but in the US conversation about ethnic lobbies is anything but shallow. The effects of the Israel Lobby in particular are worthy of very long, deep meditation.

#14 Comment By Gazeteer On August 7, 2014 @ 8:00 am

@German_reader “it’s difficult not to get the impression that many Muslims care that much about Palestine mostly because they see it as an attack and insult against the umma (as opposed to the depredations of ISIS for example which seems intent on “cleansing” the area under its control of numerous minorities). That’s a legitimate point of view, but why should it engender much sympathy among non-Muslims?”

It shouldn’t and I don’t think it does.

Most Western sympathy for the Palestinians is a natural reaction to their suffering, magnified by America’s role in enabling Israel.

#15 Comment By Madhu On August 7, 2014 @ 11:11 am

@scott

No, I don’t view Baroness Warsi as a token but as a full-rounded human being within a particular country and political context.

She has a history beyond this action. To me, it’s tokenism to see her only through her actions in this resignation. Why cannot the totality of her political experience and opinions be discussed?

Is she just a prop for enlightened Western emotionalism? A way to express one’s moral superiority?

Talk about the “White” or Western Savior Complex.

Some actions make sense to me–resigning because of the suffering in Gaza–but other actions don’t. I don’t support US policy with respect to Israel.

I also don’t find her political behavior helpful with regard to the treatment of minorities and interventionism and militarism in South Asia.

In a post about British Foreign policy, why is wrong to state opinions about that very foreign policy and its complicated nature?

I would add more but I think most people don’t read about these issues and are not aware of the larger population. More than one Pakistani liberal or British Pakistani has asked “why are we middle class westernized Pakistani/diaspora so concerned with Gaza but we turn our back on suffering closer to home?”

What I expressed is part of a larger and complicated discussion but first you need to view “browns” as more than one simple thing, one simple solid mass of humanity.

I should have stated I am glad she resigned over Gaza in my initial comment, however, to be more clear.

#16 Comment By Madhu On August 7, 2014 @ 11:14 am

@ Whistle in the Wind:

I think we need to ponder deeply many lobbies and their ill effects on the what Andrew Bacevich calls the “Washington Consensus.” Israel gets a lot of attention, and so it should, but other relationships get us into trouble too.

Right now, Atlanticism may be getting us into a real mess in Eastern Europe. And, sadly, it doesn’t even seem to be helping the people we claim to want to help.

#17 Comment By scott On August 7, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

I just found it interesting that a specific resignation premised on something that’s pretty undisputed (horrific and disproportionate violence in Gaza) should generate some fairly irrelevant and speculative musings about her motives, her abilities, and the motives of the Muslim community at large. The rather wild overreaction seemed telling, and it still does.

#18 Comment By Hannibal MO On August 7, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

Madhu said “other relationships get us into trouble too

Too true. One of the many consequences attending our pretended embrace of being a “nation of immigrants” is that unassimilated immigrants are permitted to influence our foreign policy, diplomacy, defense, visa regulations, trade arrangements and more. And native born citizens are allowed to set up shop representing foreign interests.

The consequences of elected officials advocating for alien agendas in pandering to prematurely enfranchised immigrant constituents can be dire indeed, as witness the corrupt and corrupting activities of not just the Israel Lobby, but Korean, Chinese, Turkish, and Indian lobbies as well, not to mention even less savory organizations like the MEK, which was on the State Department’s terror list until it started paying off prominent US politicians.

Suffice to say, the FARA regime badly needs updating. It also needs to be vigorously enforced. The status quo is a carnival of corruption that puts American lives and livelihoods at risk.

#19 Comment By Madhu On August 8, 2014 @ 9:32 am

I don’t mean to be a troll about this, but I think this is a worthwhile conversation from all sides.

The post is about a public political figure and the political ramifications of an act, an act I agree with because the suffering in Gaza is terrible and it is a matter of principle.

But it is not a non-sequitor on a post about UK foreign policy and a political figure to bring up the following:

“While South Asian human rights discourse, including both Indian and Pakistani, is obsessed by the issue of Palestine, a cause that has little real relevance to the region, numerous violent incidents closer to home get scant attention, such as the violence in Xinjiang, China, just over the border from both India and Pakistan. Most disturbing, however, is the daily violence perpetuated against religious minorities in Pakistan. Much of this violence is perpetuated by mobs or terrorists against individuals accused of apostasy, blasphemy, or other charges that relate to defaming Islam. The Pakistani government lacks either the ability or the will to put a halt to this violence, and there is even speculation that some government forces are participating in these acts of violence themselves.”

[6]

Baroness Warsi has an interesting history given the presence of Mirpuri immigrant diaspora in the UK, a diaspora that albeit well-meaning in some instances has helped to prolong conflict overseas.

Many lobbies and ethnic diaspora contribute to these phenomenon. It is part and parcel of a conversation about foreign policy and arming sides in a conflict.

Among the immigrant diaspora that I interact with-Syrian, Iraq and Palestinian in addition to South Asian-the above is a topic of conversation and no one would consider it a non-sequitor, likely because these are important questions about how to govern, about the proper attitudes toward minorities, about the world and states they would like to build.

This is a online comment section, it is not voting or calling one’s Senator or boycotting a business. Online emotionalism is not activism, although it may be. This is a conversation and I don’t see that any of the comments don’t belong – whether I agree or disagree.

#20 Comment By Madhu On August 8, 2014 @ 9:40 am

@ Hannibal MO

Yes, it’s a swamp of complicated connections. I honestly think in some ways the focus on the Israel lobby hurts the ability to talk about it honestly, when, if the various lobbies (some worse than others, some simply the way the world does business) were discussed in total, it would keep the various lobbies off balance because it would be less likely that tropes of bias or racism would stick.