In praise of Malcolm Rifkind

“Mad” Nick Cohen has a strange Grauniad piece on Tory isolationism, including an excellent anecdote about Scots Tory (remember them?) Malcolm Rifkind during the Yugoslavian comedy of the early 1990s:

Aides to Dole and McCain told him that Rifkind, whose experience of combat was limited to the backstabbing of the Scottish Conservative party, cried: ‘You Americans know nothing about the horrors of war.’ Dole, who had been blown up by a Nazi shell in the Second World War, walked out. McCain, who had been tortured for five years in a communist PoW camp, was so enraged by Rifkind that ‘a member of his staff feared he was about to hit him’.

For one, enraging a loony like McCain is worthwhile in and of itself. For two, as a Brit and a European, Rifkind had the absolute right to make the point he did, just as a well-educated middle class black man has the absolute right to talk about the plight of black people in general.

(for three, Rifkind’s policy was probably the right one. Recent experience suggests that the least-worst approach in a state which has turned into the kind of ethnic poison-fest that Yugoslavia reached after Tito’s death is to let populations segregate from each other as fast as possible, then send in peacekeepers once the dispute is one of territorial skirmishes over borders rather than neighbour-kills-neighbour…)

Update: Rifkind denies this is true – see comments. Pity…

5 thoughts on “In praise of Malcolm Rifkind

  1. Jim Bliss says:

    Not so sure Rifkind had a point at all to be honest. There are almost three generations of people here in Western Europe with no experience of war to speak of. On the other hand; self-inflicted wounds though they both were; both Korea and Vietnam have touched the lives of millions of Americans. Sure, they’ve not had cities razed, not watched as an occupying army tore down statues of their presidents… but to suggest that the generation of young men who wound up in Vietnam during the 60s and 70s “know nothing about the horrors of war” is just Malcolm Rifkind being an almight cock.

    As usual.

    To suggest it when your small audience includes someone renowned for having survived years of torture, is bloody stupid. As odious a fucker as McCain is, and as nauseatingly-willing he is to flaunt it, he probably has earned his “know something about the horrors of war” badge.

    As for whether or not Rifkind’s policy was the right one… I doubt it would have made matters worse than they became, but to be honest I’m not sure it would have improved things very much either. The troubole is, it doesn’t solve the central problem, which is “sizeable minority” populations of between 20 and 30% are (a) generally difficult to move if we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people, and (b) often contain a large enough number of militants to generate a resistance movement, both politically and in terms of militia organisations, which in turn tends to prevent the kind of political dialogue that would allow borders to be agreed upon.

    A Serbian friend of mine insists that the books have yet to be written that will allow us to make sense of what happened there.

  2. Matthew says:

    It should be noted that Rifkind denies it entirely. See comments here

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/stephenpollard/564181/sir-malcom-rifkinds-sick-irony.thtml

  3. spazmo says:

    Whether Rifkind’s policy was right or not sending peacekeepers in to just wander around and watch doesn’t strike me as being a brilliant policy either.

    Rifkind’s comments were funny, and for that at least he should be praised.

  4. PDF says:

    Hmm. Think there’s a pretty big difference between “country bombed, cities razed, real risk of / actual military occupation” and “some yoof get sent on a gook-killing drugs adventure in exoticland”.

    To be honest, anything bad which happens to McCain is a good thing in my book – had Rifkind pissed in his face, removed his eyes with a spoon, or called him a cunt on the Internet, I’d also have been pleased, impressed and wholeheartedly supportive.

    I suspect the Serbian friend is right… however, I’m struggling to think of how a massive early western intervention with the aim of keeping demographics and populations at their 1989 levels could have been anything other than, well, Iraq.

  5. Jim Bliss says:

    … had Rifkind pissed in his face, removed his eyes with a spoon, or called him a cunt on the Internet, I’d also have been pleased, impressed and wholeheartedly supportive

    See, I don’t disagree with you there. But I’m experiencing a certain level of internal confusion. Because if McCain had pissed in Rifkind’s face, removed his eyes with a spoon, or called him a cunt on the internet, I’d be equally pleased, impressed and wholeheartedly supportive.

    Rifkind in a knob of the highest order. A classic reactionary tory tosser whose been talking up an attack on Iran for years. If McCain and Rifkind got into a fist-fight, I’d honestly not know who to root for, and would merely be hoping for the greatest total amount of damage.

    Disagree with you on the Vietnam point though. Coming from an Iraqi, or an Afghani, Rifkind’s alleged statement might bear some weight. But coming from a Western European? Sorry, but no. That’s just an idiotic thing for someone like Rifkind to say. You point out — quite rightly — that being born white, male and British makes you pretty damn lucky by global standards. Well, one of the reasons for that is it’s a long time (as I say, three generations) since white, male Britons have been shipped off to war in large numbers. Some “horrors of war” are clearly more horrible than others. But we both know the experience of Vietnam for the United States was a little more than a drugs adventure.

    Also, I’m certainly not suggesting that “a massive early western intervention” in former Yugoslavia would have been a good idea. In fact, it would have been a disaster and I honestly don’t know what the best way to proceed would have been. Unsurprisingly though, I’ve been thinking about the issue in terms of group psychodynamics, and I fear that there was a certain inevitablility to what happened. Perhaps some kind of subtle social engineering in the decades preceeding the 90s might have defused the tensions before they ever erupted, but I’d be sceptical about that too.

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