One of the first world statesmen to send a message of sympathy to Boston after last week’s outrage was Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein. ‘Just watching news of the explosion in Boston,’ he tweeted, ‘Sympathy with people of that fine city.’ Mr Adams has every reason to think fondly of Boston. Throughout the troubles, while he sat on the IRA war council, Boston was one of the major American centres which he (through Noraid) could rely on for support and funding. Bostonian money would have been used to help pay for the IRA attack on Margaret Thatcher’s democratically elected government in Brighton, the grotesque Birmingham pub bombings that left 21 dead, and of course the Lisburn van bombing of 15 June 1988. On that terrible occasion six off-duty British soldiers were killed by an IRA bomb just after they had completed a half-marathon for charity.
By no means all Bostonians supported the IRA. But far too many for comfort filled in the collecting tins that went round the bars of the south part of the city, where IRA terrorists were treated as heroes. This activity was smiled on by many local politicians, and overlooked for a time even by the FBI. Of course one’s heart goes out to the dead and wounded from last week’s hideous attack, and the sympathy here in Britain has been universal. But it is not easy to draw the distinction between the horror inflicted on Boston last week and the IRA (and loyalist) atrocities of the Troubles. Yet US sympathisers are funding the ‘Real IRA’ even today. In the light of last week’s horror, would it be too much to ask them to desist?
I have been studying Sir Lewis Namier’s essay on diplomacy, to be found in his wonderful volume In the Margin of History, published on the eve of the second world war. It contains some important advice: ‘No man is lightly to be chosen for the post of British Foreign Secretary who speaks any language but English; or at least, a man burdened with such accomplishments should be made to take a vow never to speak any other language.’ Here is the great historian’s reasoning: ‘He is certain not to know every foreign language which matters; and if he is familiar only with one, he tends to develop an undue bias in favour of that particular nation. But if, worst of all, he prides himself on such knowledge, and finds pleasure in jabbering that foreign lingo, then he is lost and essential British interests are in jeopardy.’ Namier cites approvingly the example of Lord Salisbury, who ‘knew French, but never talked anything but English to foreign statesmen or diplomats’. Namier assumes throughout, however, that Britain is an independent nation. As a result, his thesis — compelling in 1938 — is no longer applicable. Our current crop of foreign secretaries (David Miliband and William Hague are good examples) tend to be useless at foreign languages. But this has caused a problem that Namier, writing in 1938, could not have anticipated. Fundamentally they only really understand American, and so tend to do whatever the USA wants.
This brings me on to my book, published last week and co-written with my friend David Morrison. We demonstrate how our US allegiance has distorted the British attitude to Iran. Viewing the country through US lenses, we uncritically accept the bellicose proposition that Iran is an aggressive power ruled by irrational clerics, hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, which they would use to bomb Israel. We show that every part of this thesis is nonsense. Iran has not invaded another country for 200 years, it has never threatened its neighbours, and (according to US intelligence) does not even possess a nuclear weapons programme, let alone nuclear weapons. Again and again (as we prove) Iran has offered a settlement with the West, and been rebuffed. Once we accept that Iran has every right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, under close safeguards, we may find it surprisingly easy to strike a deal that can satisfy all sides. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate, and unnecessary.
Maggie Thatcher’s funeral last week has been hailed as ‘pitch perfect’ but I have problems with the cathedral authorities’ handling of the first hymn, ‘To Be A Pilgrim’. Their decision to cut out John Bunyan’s famous line about hobgoblins and foul fiends was bad enough. Mrs T would have hated this act of bowdlerisation. However, my wife, who is vicar of St Michael’s Chiswick, points out an even more serious failing. The hymn should surely have begun ‘She who would valiant be’ and carried on the same vein until the final line: ‘She’ll labour night and day, To be a Pilgrim.’