With the euro teetering on the verge of collapse, a new report by the European Council accusing the Prime Minister of Kosovo of murdering Serbian captives and trading in their body parts, and total uncertainty overhanging Afghanistan's future, foreign policy is no longer a matter of vague principles. It is about what stand you take on the specifics.
All the more disappointing, then, that the shadow Foreign Secretary, Yvette Cooper, should start off with quite such a bland and uninteresting (uninterested, indeed) first speech in her new post this week.
One understands the problems. On many of the individual issues – supporting the Irish bailout, pursuing an exit strategy for Afghanistan – David Cameron has proved a lot more pragmatic than many had expected.
Nor does the Opposition yet seem in a position to evolve policy of its own on any subject, let alone on international affairs. The title of Yvette Cooper's address says it all: "Coalition Foreign Policy – an Assessment and Labour's Approach to Opposition." The latter is indeed what is on the mind of Ms Cooper, often spoken of as a potential future leader of her party.
The closest she comes to an alternative policy is, inevitably given her background as a Treasury minister under Brown, a prolonged reiteration of Gordon Brown's search for co-ordinated reflation in the world economy, and expanded aid to the poorest countries. Fair enough, the rush by all countries, individually, to cut deficits is not helping the recovery, to put it mildly.
But to say, as Ms Cooper does in some of her few non-economic arguments, that the Coalition Government should do more multinationally doesn't mean very much unless you're prepared to talk of giving India, Brazil or South Africa both a seat and veto powers on the UN Security Council.
As for doubting whether David Cameron took up the case of LiuXiaobo, the jailed Nobel prize winner, in his recent meeting with Premier Wen, does anyone seriously believe that either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown would have done so, any more than they challenged President Gaddafi of Libya?
It's time to get real on the issue of human rights in international affairs, and the Council of Europe draft report on the criminal activities of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) shows the problem. The report, after a two-year investigation, pulls no punches. Not only is the group accused of murder, drugs trafficking and trading in body parts, it specifically names Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's Prime Minister and former political chief of the KLA, as one of those primarily responsible.
The Kosovo government has completely denied it, but the Council of Europe report cannot simply be ignored. The trouble is that it has always been inconvenient for outside powers to recognise the rumours. Kosovo was Tony Blair's, as President Clinton's, proud assertion of humanitarian intervention. Direct military action had worked, President Milosevic had been forced to retreat. What was needed to make it work afterwards was a stable Kosovo (as in Iraq and Afghanistan) and the KLA conveniently supplied it (unlike in those countries).
Stability and security over justice and rights – it's the traditional dilemma in treating with countries right across Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Only Kosovo in this case is our stepchild, within our ambit, brought to birth by our military intervention and sustained as an independent country only with our continued and extensive help. An active and concerned opposition would be pressing for Britain, and British MEPs, to support EUaction (and there has been some already) in seeking criminal accountability for these alleged crimes.
If the Labour Party of Ed Miliband means what it says in breaking loose from its Blairite and Brownite past, then it needs to acknowledge that it was under these two that it compromised the principles of an ethical policy, as set out by Robin Cook. On the evidence of its shadow Foreign Secretary's speech, it is still stuck in it.
Holbrooke was pure Clintonite to the end
Everyone has described Richard Holbrooke, who died this week, as "larger than life". It's a verdict that he would have heartily agreed with. It's how he thought of himself.
Overweening self-confidence combined with limitless energy make for great generals in war. They made Holbrooke especially effective in the 20 days he banged Balkan heads together in Dayton, Ohio, at the end of the Bosnian war. But that was in a situation where, thanks to international concern and military exhaustion, the parties had no real choice but to seek an end to war and to accept America's bullying on the terms.
When it came to his more recent appointment as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the conditions were quite different. The US is viewed not as an all-powerful umpire but an embattled military occupier. The main contestants, the Taliban, have not been defeated but eager for the fight once the occupying forces have left.
Holbrooke, rooted in the power plays of the past, never understood the Afghan politics behind President Karzai or the fractures of a democratically elected Pakistan government. He wanted a political solution but thought that he, as US representative, could force it as he had done in Dayton. In this sense he was, at the end, part of a continued dominance of the old Clinton establishment of the State Department – one that has prevented Obama from formulating a foreign policy to suit the times.Reuse content