Politics & Policy

The Shawcross Redemption

An ex-liberal cheers on Bush and Blair

To the British Left, William Shawcross is a traitor. The man who once excoriated Henry Kissinger for U.S. policies in Cambodia has become a devoted supporter of the Bush-Blair approach to foreign policy. His impressive new book, Allies: The U.S., Britain, Europe, and the War in Iraq, is a passionate call to arms in what Shawcross describes as “the most important battle of our time.”

He’s not supposed to do that!

And so now the venerated author of books such as Sideshow has landed himself on the British Left’s list of turncoats. You know the one: It includes names like George Orwell and Christopher Hitchens.

Here’s what The New Statesman said about Shawcross in an especially agitated column: “Once a model progressive, he is today a fellow-traveler of U.S. imperialism, a committed Euroskeptic, a powerful advocate of pre-emptive war, and an apologist for monarchy and inherited privilege.”


The New York Times was more restrained but no less surprised. “What’s going on here?” asked James Traub in a review of Allies.

What’s going on here is that Shawcross has written an outstanding justification of the Anglo-American effort to drive Saddam Hussein from power. It is an exemplary piece of moral clarity and fine writing — and it is downright refreshing to read the words of a European who says things like this: “As in the twentieth century, so in the twenty-first, only America has both the power and the optimism to defend the international community against what really are the forces of darkness.”

Allies would be a very good book no matter who wrote it. The fact that comes from the pen of Shawcross — “Cambodia was not a mistake,” he once wrote, “it was a crime” — makes it both good and interesting.

Shawcross himself doesn’t seem to care what the Left thinks of him. “If they think I’ve betrayed them, that’s fine with me,” he says in an interview with NRO. “It’s not illiberal to support getting rid of one of the nastiest regimes in the world.”

Shawcross is one of those people who thinks that the world is a better place for a certain despot having no power in it. “The problem can be stated simply,” he writes in Allies. “Saddam Hussein had made clear over decades that the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis was of no consequence to him. The death of millions of Iranians was to be desired. What would inhibit him from killing millions of Americans and Europeans as well if and when he had the means? Nothing in his record.”

This is not to suggest that Shawcross is uncritical of the coalition effort in Iraq. “There have been terrible mistakes in the postwar planning,” he says. He also believes the war on terror is poorly named. “It should be called a ‘campaign’ because it will be a long fight with no formal surrender.”

But these problems are small compared to the war’s big stakes. “This was a genuinely brave attempt, led by the United States, to change the rules in a game where everyone except the tyrants are the losers,” he writes in Allies. “The responsibility on America and its allies is immense. The only certainty is that they must succeed. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate.”

Does this make Shawcross a British neoconservative — a term he applies to Tony Blair (“but only in foreign affairs”)?

“It would be a bit grand to call myself that,” he says. “I do hate the British liberal assault on neoconservatives, though.”

Has this son of former Labor minister Hartley Shawcross abandoned family tradition and become a Tory?

“I support Blair but not his party — on foreign policy. At home, the Labor party has been disastrous. Having pretended to be New Labor, they are now finding Old Labor solutions to everything. I’m independent of political parties.”

Why have Europeans reacted so strongly against this war?

“A lot of Europeans don’t like being led by an American or by Bush. There’s an awful lot of hypocrisy in this anti-Americanism. If Bill Clinton was fighting this war, there would be more support because he’s more user-friendly than Bush. But Clinton probably wouldn’t have done it.”

A saner liberalism wouldn’t be upset with William Shawcross — it would embrace him and his ideas. But don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, as Shawcross has embarked upon a new project that it sure to rankle his old admirers in a completely different way: An authorized biography of the Queen Mother.

It won’t be finished before 2006 — but when it is, expect the Left once more to heap its scorn upon a good writer and a good man.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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