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Paul Vallely: A sense of madness grips our politics

22 November 2019

But there are still some who have a long-term vision, says Paul Vallely


President Trump speaks to the media outside the White House on Wednesday

President Trump speaks to the media outside the White House on Wednesday

AFTER a half-century of relative stability, the world now seems to be changing very fast. President Trump this week overturned 40 years of United States policy in the Middle East with his announcement that Washington no longer regarded the Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank as illegal under international law. It is only one example of his self-focused determination to turn the world upside down.

President Trump has already acquiesced in Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. And he has moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It feels like one nail after another in the coffin of the two-state solution in Israel which would honour the Palestinians’ right to nationhood and allow them self-determination.

Of course, President Trump’s ignoring international law does not mean that it has lost its validity. His ignoring the law is hardly new. But something deeper is going on.

Interesting discussions have been taking place in advance of next month’s summit in London to celebrate 70 years since the founding of NATO, something else for which President Trump has little time. The shape of the conversation offers paradigms that go beyond that military alliance.

There are those countries, led by France, which are keen to kick Turkey out of NATO. Turkey’s recent occupation of northern Syria and its border deals with Russia are only the latest causes for concern with the policies of President Tayyip Erdogan.

But those with a more long-term vision advise against expelling Turkey. They point out that a time will come when President Erdogan is no longer in charge of Turkey, and yet Russian hostility to Europe, which has survived the end of the Cold War, could still be an enduring strategic concern. The US has nuclear warheads based there, and the Turkish army — the second largest in NATO — constitutes a weighty counterbalance to Russian forces around the Black and Mediterranean seas.

It is fashionable nowadays to pronounce funeral rites over the old Enlightenment idea that human reason will, over time, inevitably make the world a better place. The crazed populism of our time appears to give the lie to that in the US, north and south, Europe, and even now in our own country.

The present General Election campaign is only adding to that sense of madness, as our political parties engage in an arms race of half-baked wish-list policies designed to attract the floating voter.

In just a single one this week, we had the Conservatives offering the law’n’order policy that “life must mean life” for the killers of children, while Labour promised to double police action against blood sports. The Tory policy will affect fewer than a dozen cases a year, while Labour surely ought to have more serious concerns than pursuing this hoary remnant of class war.

It is a sobering fact that many of the politicians who have chosen not to stand in this election were drawn from the diminishing ranks of sensible middle-of-the-road English politics. But the madmen have not quite taken over the asylum, even though they have somehow obtained a set of keys and are enjoying prominently twirling them. False optimism might offer short-term political advantage, but hope remains a Christian virtue.

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