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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

What would Lord Palmerston do?

The violence in Afghanistan that erupted over the accidental burning of the Koran by US soldiers is shocking, but not surprising. What has been really surprising to me is the abject grovelling to the Afghan government that we've seen from US officials, including President Obama. What has happened to our political leaders? In the 19th century, western governments would never have apologized to the head of a neolithic country like Afghanistan. Britain's Lord Palmerston would have known exactly what a situation like this required

In 1847, a Portuguese Jew named David Pacifico (or "Don Pacifico") who was Portuguese Consul in Athens, had his house ransacked by an anti-semitic mob. The local police looked on and did nothing - in fact two sons of a Greek government minister participated in the riot. In 1848, after Pacifico had unsuccessfully sued the Greek government for restitution, he turned to the British government for help, since he had been born in Gibraltar and was thus a British subject. Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston was outraged, and responded by sending a squadron of Royal Navy ships into the Aegean to seize Greek shipping. Eventually the Royal Navy blockaded the port of Piraeus, the main seaport of Athens. Despite considerable opposition in Parliament and a diplomatic fire storm from the governments of France and Russia, Palmerston maintained the blockade for two months until the Greeks backed down and agreed to compensate Pacifico for his losses.

Palmerston gave a famous five hour speech in the House of Commons defending his actions:
"Oh but", it is said, "what an ungenerous proceeding to employ so large a force against so small a power?" Does the smallness of the country justify the magnitude of its evil acts?

Was there anything uncourteous in sending a force which should manifest that resistance was out of the question? Why, it seems to me, that it was more consistent with the honour and dignity of the Greek government that there should be placed before their eyes a force to which it would be no indignity to yield.

I contend that we have not in our foreign policy done anything to forfeit the confidence of the country. I maintain that the principles which can be traced through all our foreign transactions, as the guiding rule and directing spirit of our proceedings, are such as deserve approbation.

I therefore fearlessly challenge the verdict which this House, as representing a political, a commercial, a constitutional country, is to give on the question now brought before it; whether the principles on which the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government has been conducted, and the sense of duty which has led us to think ourselves bound to afford protection to our fellow subjects abroad, are proper and fitting guides for those who are charged with the Government of England; and whether, as the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he would say "Civis Romanus sum" [I am a Roman Citizen]; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong.
President Obama is no Lord Palmerston, that's for sure. His administration has now apologized to the Afghan government three times, even as American citizens are being murdered in their offices in Kabul. Obama immediately sent a letter to President Karzai which read:
"I convey my deep sympathies and ask you and the people to accept my deep apologies," the letter said.

"The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible."

Apologies for what? Four Americans are dead at the hands of Afghan thugs. He should have sent the Marines to arrest Karzai and his cabinet instead. Palmerston would have done it.

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