Outlook From London: Crises Galore

In a haze of uncertainty, political observers in Britain are wavering in their views about the issues in the general elections, due to take place within a few weeks. Only a short time ago commentators, spade in hand, were ready to bury Gordon Brown and the title of a political best-seller announced The End of the Party. All this because opinion polls declared the Tory lead over Labour falling from a high of 26% to a low of 2%. In view of the 'first past the post' British voting system, Brown would still be able to form a government with a tiny majority of two or three seats, or bring into a coalition the third -- the Liberal Democratic -- party, but this would prove an unhappy solution.

The need to choose between Brown's discredited government and the inexperienced team Cameron explains the bitter feelings of uncertainty and disappointment of the man in the street.

Both popular tribunes and scholarly experts flood the public with their definitions of the origins, duration, and consequences of the economic crisis. Those who cling to optimistic statistics are countered by sombre voices who claim that unless this or that robust cure is taken even worse will befall us.

In foreign politics things don't look much better. Great Britain is the most intensively engaged European country in Afghanistan and yet Obama's America is cooler than ever towards London, and of course towards all Europeans. The first signs of a new crisis with Argentina, with the resurrection of her claims to the Falkland Islands and objections to drilling for oil in the ocean nearby, raise the doubt that this time the United States would even be neutral - compared with the cordial collaboration between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the last of Britain's colonial wars. Yet for Chavez and Castro a new front against neo-colonialism seems to emerge.

Obama's refusal to attend the summit meeting of Europeans in Madrid in May effectively signaled the White House's downgrading of these meetings, whose outcome was expected to be of decisive importance at that moment when the Lisbon Treaty was about to be ratified.

The failure, or at best stagnation, of President Obama's Near East policy, whether this be the Palestinian conflict or the attempt to detach Iran from its vassals Syria and Lebanon, or indeed the prevention of Tehran's atomic programme, all create a dangerous vacuum.

An influential European politician on his return from Washington described to me the scenario that vexes military experts most at this moment: should Iran refuse to be stopped in reaching the end phase of her atomic programme and Israel see herself forced to intervene militarily, Iran already has its own road map to Armageddon. The straits of Hormuz will be mined; the oil price will rise to $200 per barrel; Hezbollah will shower her forty thousand rockets from the Lebanon and Syria on to Israel's north and Hamas will empty its arsenal onto Israel's south; the Syrian army will mobilise on the Golan Heights. The argument that Israel will have no choice but to defend herself with all, even the most deadly, means at her disposal is hard to refute.

On the other hand, to allow the Ahmadinejad regime a free hand constitutes an even greater risk because it would lead to atomic escalation in the whole of the region. Weaker countries would be blackmailed by Tehran and the influence of the West would weaken exponentially. The argument that an attack on Iran would rally her Opposition around the government is very debatable. We need to cast our minds back to last phase of the Third Reich, when fears that the people would rise, and werewolves form whole armies of organised resistance in the Bavarian Alps in defence of the Nazi regime, turned out to be wholly groundless.