PETER HITCHENS: Don't blame Russia… WE are the ones pushing for a war

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At last we are to get out of Afghanistan, a country to which we should never have sent a single soldier. 

I am still full of fury at the shallow and ignorant politicians of all the main parties who sent young men and women into that futile war, to die or to be maimed, for absolutely no purpose.

But as this long-overdue moment arrives, a frantic lobby in this country and in the USA wants to get us into a new and equally pointless war against Russia. As I know a bit about Russia, and once lived there, I’d like to warn against this.

Yes, Russia is ruled by nasty, sinister despots. But it is not a major threat to us. We have no disputes about territory or trade. Its leaders and people care little about us. It is a defeated, poor country with an economy about the same size as Italy‘s, which has been in headlong retreat and decline since the 1980s.

Once it ruled a vast empire that began at Marienborn in the middle of Germany, less than 500 miles from Calais. Now it is almost 1,500 miles from the Channel to Russia’s western frontier. It controlled a vast military alliance and an economic bloc, now both very dead. 

At last we are to get out of Afghanistan, a country to which we should never have sent a single soldier

It maintained a global navy, most of which was long ago turned into fridges and washing machines. Much of the rest is so decrepit it can barely leave harbour. It was the headquarters of a stupid dogma, now finished and gone, which it tried to spread throughout the world.

All this is over. Moscow has abandoned control of tens of thousands of square miles of territory in Europe and Asia and knows it lacks the power to get it back.

Let me explain how this feels to Russians by asking you to imagine a mirror image. Imagine that the USA had lost the Cold War and the USSR had won it. Think how it might be if Moscow had then treated the USA as Washington has treated Russia. This is what you might have seen:

US President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House

Instead of Ukraine being detached from Moscow rule, and slowly reeled into Nato and the EU, imagine that an equally huge, fertile, productive and strategic chunk of the USA, including Texas and California, was encouraged to declare independence and form a new Spanish-speaking nation hostile to the USA. 

Impossible? Hardly. This part of the US was seized by armed force from Mexico in the 1840s, and it is only the USA’s superpower status which prevents this grab from being questioned in the same way that Russia’s former hold over Ukraine, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Baltic states was questioned after 1989.

Imagine constant efforts to get this new North American nation to join the Warsaw Pact military alliance, and Comecon, Moscow’s economic and trading bloc. And picture at the same time the spread of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon into most central and South American countries, along with major gifts of modern Soviet weapons and aircraft.

Vladimir Putin could turn out to be mild compared with what we get if we stir up the true spirit of Russian nationalism

Imagine that Nato has been abolished under Soviet pressure, as the Warsaw Pact was wound up under US pressure. And imagine also that almost all of Nato’s non-US members have not stayed neutral, but have been gathered into the Warsaw Pact under the ultimate command of Moscow.

The permanent stationing of large numbers of well-armed Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops and warships in Cuba would undoubtedly follow. And to add to the mix, think how it might be if Quebec finally broke away from Canada, with Moscow’s encouragement, and allowed Warsaw Pact troops to be based along the USA’s northern border.

At 335 miles from New York City, this is nothing like as close as Nato troops (often to be seen in Narva, Estonia) now are to Russia’s second city St Petersburg, 99 miles from the Estonian frontier. I think the people of what was left of the USA, and its political leaders, would chafe quite a lot at such an arrangement. In fact they would be fearful and angry and perhaps inclined to lash out.

Militant American nationalists would sweep to power in the Capitol and the White House. They might even re-annexe Texas, if they got the chance, in the face of international disapproval.

They would ask which country the Warsaw Pact was aimed at. They would object to every move which brought Moscow’s military power and alliances closer to the borders of a diminished USA. They would wonder what the ultimate aim of these actions was. And they would be quite within their rights to do so.

The best test of whether your own policy is good or bad is to imagine how it would feel if your foes did the same thing to you. On this basis, our policies towards Russia are dangerous and aggressive.

If we want a peaceful and friendly Russia, then our actions are stupid, ignorant and counter-productive. Vladimir Putin could turn out to be mild compared with what we get if we stir up the true spirit of Russian nationalism. Please don’t be seduced into supporting this folly.

A war on European territory could be a truly terrible thing.

Kind Shirley’s cruel legacy 

The long, bad legacy of Shirley Williams will continue to blight the country for decades after her death.

As it happens, I liked her and knew her to be a kind and thoughtful person. But her part in destroying good state education, by abolishing grammar schools, cannot be forgotten or forgiven. Nice people can do bad things.

Those few hundred academically selective schools, which favoured talent over wealth, kept our whole education system honest.

They rivalled or beat the expensive ‘public’ schools at their own game. Once most of them closed, our entire exam system had to be watered down and weakened, because the new comprehensive schools couldn’t cope with proper standards.

The long, bad legacy of Shirley Williams will continue to blight the country for decades after her death

And now, with many universities openly abandoning the requirement that work should be done in good English, we see the depth and strength of this damage. These are universities, supposed to be nurseries of excellence. But increasingly they are nothing of the kind.

Education is about authority. People with knowledge, and a clear idea of what it is important to know, pass this on to the next generation. The process starts with reading itself, and such things as times tables. 

Both of these require hard learning and the marking down of mistakes.

When the time comes to take responsibility, and to think critically, people who have never learned the basics properly will not know where to begin. 

And we now see this in so much of our daily life and politics.

In the end, even people such as Shirley Williams will not be insulated from the dire results.

David Cameron was one of the worst Prime Ministers we ever had

Much as it delights me to see David Cameron in trouble over his lobbying, I have to ask why it is that we have to wait for sleaze to bring such people down. Why do they so seldom fall because of their political bungles and wrongdoing?

Sleaze may sweep away individuals, but it does not undo their policies nor replace them with anyone better.

Mr Cameron was one of the worst Prime Ministers we ever had. His Blairite takeover of the Tory Party (which has not been reversed, whatever they may tell you) robbed conservative-minded people in this country of any true voice at Westminster.

His foolish war in Libya turned that nation from a stable tyranny into a pit of fire and blood, which will end up as a tyranny again but after countless avoidable deaths which are Mr Cameron’s fault.

It also breached a major defence against people-trafficking and helped to destabilise the whole of Europe.

That’s what matters. If he hadn’t done these things, a bit of cronyism wouldn’t really trouble me all that much.

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