In testing times on the geopolitical stage, what a relief to find British foreign policy in such masterful hands.
If you had come to think of Jeremy Hunt as the buffoon’s buffoon, be good enough to think again. The slapstick lummox who hid from hacks behind a tree while on his way to a Murdoch dinner, when as media secretary he was overseeing the Murdoch bid for BSkyB, is no more.
Also gone is the intransigent health secretary who waged a long and futile war against the junior doctors. Bid fond farewell to the chump whose political talents seemed to begin with a gift for avoiding the sack, and end with a knack for projecting a brand of soppy emollience on the radio.
Behold, he is reincarnated. Even as Athena sprang from the skull of Zeus, Hunt arrived as a fully-formed titan of international statesmanship even before he underscored his aptitude to be foreign secretary by locating his wife’s country of birth in roughly the correct region of the world.
Six weeks after Boris Johnson’s resignation on a point of principle (the principle being his entitlement to live in No 10), his successor has nipped to the US to give his first speech. Or “major speech”, as his address to the UN Security Council is more realistically styled.
The nominal purpose of the trip – one of such fascination there that the entire US media seems too overexcited to mention it – is to cajole our EU partners to emulate the stringent new novichok sanctions against Russia that the US government is about to introduce. For these, Hunt credits the president.
Understandably given his schedule (golf, ringing Sean Hannity, increasingly insane tweeting about Robert Mueller, and so on), Donald Trump has delegated the thrill of meeting Hunt in person to Mike Pompeo, his Secretary of State.
Still, the two were introduced in July during Trump’s visit to l’il ol’ us, as Hunt reminded Today’s Mishal Husain, and it made quite an impression. “My interpretation of President Trump having met him briefly …” he recalled, “is that this is someone who fundamentally does believe there should be a rules-based order internationally”. Trump, he added, is by no means the isolationist many expected.
I cannot put into words how reassuring this is. Those with a less acute grasp of diplomatic nuance have wondered. Pulling the US out of the Paris climate change and Iranian nuclear deals, closing his borders to nationals from various Muslim countries, repeatedly threatening to abandon “obsolete” Nato, disowning the joint communique within minutes of leaving the G7 summit, picking fights with democratic allies while heaping the love on dictators … There have been a few niggling doubts about Trump’s anti-isolationist credentials.
But not a bit of it. As Hunt insightfully points out, Trump confirmed his commitment to the existing world order by taking personal responsibility for the expulsion of the 60 Russian diplomats and these tough new sanctions.
With a broad-stroke geostrategic genius like Hunt, pedantries cannot be allowed to diminish the scope of his vision. It may be technically accurate that America has not spoken about this issue with the “one voice” he claims, and hopes to hear replicated by the EU. It may well be, in fact, that it speaks with two distinct and contradictory voices: Trump’s, which for whatever reasons tends to the peevishly muted about all alleged Russian misdemeanours; and that of the rest of the administration, which merrily acts in defiance of his wishes.
So much for the banalities. Like all great diplomats, Hunt looks beneath the surface trivia to find the deeper truths the myopic cannot see. His X-ray vision identifies Trump as an old school internationalist, dedicated to preserving the world order of the last 70 years.
His raw courage in defying the conventional thinking there extends to warning the EU that it will be the sad loser if it fails to follow the American lead on sanctions.
The received wisdom here is that this isn’t a great moment for Britain to side with Trump and make menacing noises towards the European Union. Just a few days ago, after all, a certain Jeremy Hunt warned about the grave danger to Britain of a no-deal Brexit, which he said would be worse for us than a bad deal.
Showing that trademark bravery, he quickly finessed that statement when the ultras attacked him for scaremongering. What he really meant – and about this, of course, he was very, very clear – is that while Britain will survive and prosper without a deal, the EU 27 will pay a heavy price.
You can’t put a value on this kind of steadfastness under fire, even if the cynics and sneerers might wilfully misconstrue it as appeasement in the cause of his leadership ambitions.
Hunt has been telling people for months that he believes he is “back in the game” – and in this crazy, crazy political vista of ours, perhaps he is. If a vacancy occurs, and the centre of the Tory parliamentary party is looking for a warrior to take on the ultras, who better than someone boldly willing to speak unfashionable truths?
The only obvious downside to a Hunt premiership is that it would rob us of the foreign secretary who best reflects the state of the nation. A country that wilfully opts for irrelevance deserves a diplomatic figurehead to echo that choice.
We tried megaphone diplomacy for centuries, but it hasn’t worked so well of late in Iraq and elsewhere. This is the hour for squirrel diplomacy from a bashful little rodent whose instinct when alarmed is to scurry into the trees.
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