Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A positive speech, but an opportunity missed.

The Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, addressed the joint Houses of Congress in the USA today. I've always been a fan of Mr. Ahern; there have been recent allegations of corruption but frankly I don't care whether they are true or not. I'm also proud that he has been honoured with the opportunity to make today's address. I'm a little disappointed, however, having read a brief summary of his speech, with what he chose not to say.

Bertie did the right thing, and thanked the USA for it's positive role in the peace process in Ireland in the 1990's. They really did play a big part in the process (especially under the Clinton administration) and I think we can all be grateful for the role they played. The RTE news site summarized this as follows:

Mr Ahern said he always had faith in the Good Friday Agreement and was proud after so many decades of conflict to be the first Irish leader to tell America that 'Ireland is at peace'.

He thanked President George Bush and all his administration for their help, and in particular Senator George Mitchell for the role he played.

He said that peace in Northern Ireland was also part of a greater American legacy thanks to the support America gave throughout the peace process.

He reminded Americans not to forget that and to 'feel glad' for what role it had played.

But did Bertie say enough? The world is tired after a few years of the 'war against terror' and the associated invasion of Iraq. America must also be tired after what has been a difficult occupation of Iraq. But I'm tired of leaders who fail to point out the obvious to America: when they act positively and intelligently, as they did in Northen Ireland in the 1990's, the outcome tends to be successful. When their actions are more drastic, however good their intentions might be, the outcome can be disastrous (there seems no point in providing an example here - the most obvious one will overshadow any history of this decade). I hope they don't forgot how much good they can do, and I hope they can 'feel glad' about they way they choose to deal with their current problems in the Middle East.

Martin Kettle recently commented on Gordon Brown's efforts to influence US foreign policy during his visit to the USA. Kettle warns that Brown must not think that he can have any real influence on US thinking and should instead focus on reforming the UK's role in world politics. I'm inclined to agree with Kettle on this one, but at least Brown made an effort.

The current violence in the Middle East is not in Ireland's interests. Mr. Ahern's speech in Washington was a great opportunity to express the country's gratitude to the USA for their help in Northern Ireland, and our good will towards their nation. At the same time there is much unease in Ireland about the implications of current US foreign policy, and it's a shame that he didn't express some support for those in the US who might like to change it, and work towards the kind of peaceful resolution that has been achieved in Ireland. Plenty of people in America envision a positive role for their country in world affairs - we should let them know that they have our support should they gain more control over their country's affairs in the future.

1 comment:

Ishmael said...

Not read Ahern's speech, but I did pick up on Gordon Brown's awful platitudes on his visit to the US a couple of weeks ago (the one where he was upstaged by the Pope).

US politics and international relations at the moment seems to have a sense of "demob happy" about it. Everyone knows Bush is completely hamstrung politically, and are looking towards the newcomers with, I expect, everybody hoping they will be either black or female, but certainly not named after a brand of frying chips.

In this context, I'm not sure that Brown or Ahern could do anything other than offer trite comments about the "special relationship"; why score points now against an administration that is dead in the water, and risk losing favour with a next administration that could - everyone hopes - really revolutionise US politics both domestically and internationally?