日期:2015-04-04 16:12


All zones of public discourse have their excesses and irrationalities, but none like foreign policy. In our golden age of data, this is one area that remains resiliently unmeasurable. So anyone can say anything as long as they say it sonorously and use the word “strategy” a lot.
And so the idea has taken hold that Britain is withdrawing from the world. The charge is built on topical grievances against Prime Minister David Cameron: his euroscepticism, his implied cuts to the defence budget in the coming years, his absence from the Franco-German diplomatic front against Russia. These observations are each true, to a point, but they add up to a partial reading.
因此,英国正在从全世界退缩的说法深入人心。这一指责建立在时下对首相戴维•卡梅伦(David Cameron)的诸多不满之上:他的欧洲怀疑主义(euroscepticism)、他暗示在未来几年削减国防预算以及缺席法德联合制裁俄罗斯的外交阵线。从某种程度上说,这些观点每一个说得都没错,但合起来看却有失偏颇。
Here is a rounder account. Since 2010, Britain has co-led a military operation in Libya that amounted to regime change, and come within a parliamentary vote of a strike against Syria. It has bombed jihadis in Iraq and declared that there is “no legal barrier” to an extension of those raids into Syrian territory. It has tried to deepen relations with China and other Asian powers, even at the cost of American umbrage. It has not just stuck to a target for foreign aid that has little grounding in logic and even less in electoral self-interest, it has codified it in statute.
Whatever one thinks of these ventures — some have failed hideously, some make sense, some lack any — they do not constitute a retreat from the world. They do not suggest a government ducking foreign policy in either its diplomatic or kinetic modes. If Mr Cameron is an isolationist, he is a lousy one.
Make do with the boring truth: on a spectrum of postwar prime ministers, Mr Cameron’s curiosity about the world puts him somewhere in the middle. He is more outward-looking than Harold Wilson but less restlessly adventurous than Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair. Our historical lens is coloured by the recent tenures of those two globe-trotters, who were in effect their own foreign secretaries. Given that Mr Blair’s activism involved the Iraq war and an ardour for the European single currency, Britons might excuse their present prime minister his relative circumspection.
不妨看一下有些无聊的事实:如果对战后的英国首相进行排序,卡梅伦对世界的好奇心可以让他位列中等。他比哈罗德•威尔逊(Harold Wilson)更关注国际事务,但不像玛格丽特•撒切尔(Margaret Thatcher)或者托尼•布莱尔(Tony Blair)那么敢于冒险。撒切尔和布莱尔奔波于世界各地参与全球事务,他们最近任期的表现影响了我们看待历史的方式——这两人实际上是他们自己的外交大臣。鉴于布莱尔的行动主义包括参与伊拉克战争以及热情支持欧洲单一货币,英国人或许会原谅现任首相的相对谨慎。
Critics of Britain’s insularity tend to come in two forms: those who do not mean what they say, and those who do not know what they mean.
Take the first lot. In politics, when people accuse a leader of lacking a strategy, they tend to mean that they dislike the strategy he has. When they implore him to “engage” with something, they want him to engage on terms that please them. There is a lofty tier of British public life that dislikes Mr Cameron’s mercantilist take on the world and his desire to revise the terms of EU membership. They regard the first as vulgar, like winning a hand of poker at their members’ club without putting the money back into the coffers, and the second as foolish. But both are foreign policies: trade promotion and reform of the EU along liberal lines, however fanciful a project that might be, are ways of engaging with the outside world. The carpers should say what they mean: their complaint is with Mr Cameron’s ideas, not his lack of them. We can then discuss those ideas.
If this type of critic is disingenuous, the other is sketchy. Foreign policy debate is given to the most excruciating waffle, usually couched in an airy language you might call Grandese. People talk of strategy, vision, geopolitics, the world stage, but surrender specific proposals as readily as a baby gives up a pacifier clenched between its gums. At its best, diplomacy is politics at its most civilised. At its worst, it is a world made predominantly of smoke.
Britain is a medium-sized power whose global reach has waned for about 70 years. It has traumatic recent experiences of war. It has not balanced a budget since 2002. What should its international strategy be? Why does it need one? Do similar countries really have one? If there is something screamingly obvious that Britain should be doing abroad right now, what is it?
In the absence of precise answers to these questions, the criticism boils down to a hunch that Mr Cameron should put himself about a bit more, as if a prime minister is delinquent in his duties by not maximising his country’s visibility. We chuckle at armchair football coaches who yell at players on screen to run about more and get stuck in, but this mania for perpetual motion in foreign affairs is not much different.
Britain’s recent efforts abroad deserve criticism. There is the agony of Libya, which we have learnt not to talk about. The sanctification of aid looks quixotic next to the defence squeeze. But it is wrong to conflate bad choices with retreat. Sonorous, multilingual nonsense is still nonsense.