Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

Détente is back in fashion, thank heaven, and the horrors of Bam could change history

Détente is back in fashion, thank heaven, and the horrors of Bam could change history

Should liberal internationalists feel irritated when neoconservative hawks piggyback on to the successes of our own approach, and take the credit for themselves?

No, we should feel satisfied that they want to, for it is a kind of repentance. Their tantrums past and the damage obvious, we can be pretty confident that they will not repeat such mistakes. We can feel quiet pleasure in their implicit acceptance that liberal internationalism works, after all. There will be no more Iraqs — you may count on that. Towards Tripoli, towards Tehran, and hopefully towards Damascus too, détente is back in fashion, thank heaven.

The important thing is that the firebrands in Washington are being marginalised and the traditionalists are winning. Colin Powell is back in the mainstream of US foreign policy. In Britain the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has shown Downing Street that years of careful work behind the scenes can bring a Prime Minister useful prizes to claim as his own. At the heads of both governments have been standing two frightened men anxious to justify the enormous foreign-policy blunder they made together this year. Let them. We know they know.

Pacing the corridors of humbler places where columnists and editorialisers dwell are journalists whose early triumphalism in Iraq has made them look foolish; they too must satisfy wounded pride. Let them. Let them pretend they always knew that old-fashioned diplomacy would bring Colonel Gaddafi round.

Let them pretend that when they called the government of Iraq part of an ‘Axis of Evil’ they did not mean to discourage the thawing of relations for which subtler men were working. Let us simply welcome the thaw.

As the year ended, steady diplomacy, careful intelligence-gathering, graduated pressure and simple human kindness were achieving results in Iran and Libya which the impatient warmongering of the yee-hah tendency among George W.

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