David Calling

The Standard Middle East Strategy: Bewilderment

“Strip Tease” is the title of an article I wrote about Gaza for The New Republic way back in 1988. Tidying up my papers, I found it and read something that with a minimum of updating would serve to describe the present. Gaza is like a laboratory repeating an experiment time after time to show there is no alternative to the rule of the strong. The British in their day had had no clue what to do about it, and simply went away bewildered to leave incompatible societies to fight it out.

At the time I wrote that article, the Israelis had taken over the Strip since the Six-Day War. Palestinians had no way of representing themselves except by violence. There were days when the Israelis would find that Yasser Arafat’s PLO had hung up the corpses of dissident Palestinians on meat hooks. Reacting, Ariel Sharon sent in tanks in the style of any Arab strongman. At which point a junior minister of the British Foreign Office by the name of David Mellor came to Gaza and uttered the words “Something must be done,” but what this something might be he couldn’t say. In the end, and ironically, it fell to Sharon to follow the British example and he and his soldiers and settlers simply went away bewildered. So Hamas has taken the chance it was given to come to absolute power, and resorts to violence against its own people as well as against Israel. In that article long ago I concluded that the pull-out of the Israelis would surrender the Gazans to anarchy or tyranny. That’s still how it is.

In my papers were also notes about how the bewilderment of the British had developed. Sir Stafford Cripps belonged to an eminent family, and that added to the damage he could do. In a speech in 1935 he said, “You have only to look at the pages of British imperial history to hide your head in shame that you are British.” A year later, with Hitler already a threat, Cripps was even worse: “I do not think it would be a bad thing for the British working classes if Germany defeated us.” An economist and a Marxist, Cripps became British ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1940 on the grounds that he’d get on well with Stalin. Then his next mission was to India to be rid of the imperial “shame” that made him hide his head.

Public figures in these modern times habitually respond to trouble spots by saying that “something must be done.” In the absence of feeling for their own country and its interests, this can only mean bewilderment and surrender. An American president has gone a step further into the wilderness by announcing to a world in crisis that he hasn’t got a strategy yet.

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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