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July 28, 2006

What is the Henry Jackson Society?

Posted by Brendan Simms

The Henry Jackson Society is a secret society of spies working on behalf of the foreign ministry of ...
Or so one might think, if the reaction of some of its critics is anything to go by.

The Social Affairs Unit has just published the manifesto of the Henry Jackson Society, The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-first Century. Here Brendan Simms - Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society - explains what the Henry Jackson Society in fact is and why it is named after a former Senator for Washington state.

Recently the Social Affairs Unit published the manifesto of the Henry Jackson Society. It has already been welcomed by the Weekly Standard which has called for a:

Scoop [Henry Jackson] revival [to] take hold among our Democratic friends here in the States.
But sceptical panellists on BBC's Start the Week, wondered why we do not call ourselves the Tony Blair Society, or the Ronald Reagan Society. So who was Henry Jackson and what is the Henry Jackson Society?

Henry Scoop Jackson was the Democratic Senator for Washington state for some thirty years. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was known as a pioneering environmentalist and strong supporter of the civil rights movement. But it was really in the 1970s, that Scoop came into his own, as a staunch opponent of détente with the Soviet Union unless western security needs were guaranteed and the civil rights aspirations of Soviet dissidents were met.

He is an inspiration to the Society for many reasons, of which I shall single out the most important.

The anti-isolationist consensus which drove Americans to "accept every burden and pay every price", for democracy in Europe and across the world in the 1950s and 1960s had taken many decades to build. The failure of the Vietnam War, which Scoop had supported, threatened to fracture that optimism. In its place, there emerged on the right the pessimistic and often cynical realpolitik of Henry Kissinger, which was dismissive of a human rights agenda and sought rapprochement with dictators, on both ends of the spectrum. On the left, and parts of the right, there were the new isolationists who wanted to "bring America home". It was Jackson who in the 1970s rallied the intellectual, political and moral energies of the American people, and re-articulated the belief that communist tyranny should not be accommodated but overcome.

Today, we see the project of humanitarian intervention and democratic enlargement, which was riding high after the interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone, on the retreat after the failures in Iraq. The stone which many of us pushed laboriously up the hill throughout the 1990s has rolled almost all the way down again.

The failed conservative realism of that decade, epitomised by Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind, is enjoying an unexpected new lease of life on the right; and the virulent anti-Americanism which many of us thought buried with the end of the Cold War has revived on the left, though not only there. The Henry Jackson Society now seeks to draw an intellectual line, just as Scoop did in the 1970s. We know that we are on the defensive, but we are resolved to retreat no further. Our aim is not to justify the mistakes of the past, but to stake a claim for intellectual hegemony for the future. We are therefore, as our manifesto The British Moment puts it, very much a "post-Iraq Society".

But rather than explaining what the Henry Jackson Society is, perhaps it would be easier to say what it is not.

If you believe that the invasion of Iraq was a total success, that a flourishing Democratic Society is just around the corner there, and that whatever anybody else says, Saddam Hussein was both responsible for 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction, then we can only envy your faith and your confidence, but the Henry Jackson Society is probably not for you.

If you believe the exact opposite to this, that deposing Saddam Hussein was just an illegal act, perpetrated by a clique of sinister Washington neo-conservatives, with Tony Blair and the British army as their poodles. If you also believe that the imposition of democracy in Iraq is not only doomed to fail, but deserves to fail on this account, then we freely concede that you are currently making all the running, but the Henry Jackson Society is not for you.

But if you supported the removal of Saddam Hussein as an exercise in humanitarian intervention, and democratic enlargement, as no more or less legal than the Kosovo war. If you have some liberal views on domestic politics, but are prepared to concede that George Bush might be broadly right on foreign policy. If you are concerned at the spread of a conversational consensus in Britain and Europe which involves saying things like "I don't know how anybody with any intelligence can vote for Bush", even if you would not have voted for Bush yourself. If you know that we have taken many wrong turnings since the removal of Saddam Hussein, but do not feel that the whole enterprise was wrong from the start. If you feel all or some of these things; or might be persuaded of them, then the Henry Jackson Society is for you, and we invite you to join us.

Dr Brendan Simms is Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.


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Your link to the Henry Jackson Society is old.

Love the weblog, it's great to see appreciation for good ol' Scoop in the UK. I lived in Texas until a couple of years ago (34 of 37 years!) -- most Democrats in that part of the world were Scoop-like. When the Democrats went soft on Communism in the 1980s, the Texas Democrats went Republican and many even became true conservatives (in the American form of that movement). GW Bush came from that which will tell anyone who cares to look why he acts and speaks like he does.

Regards, Troy Hinrichs

Posted by: Troy Hinrichs at July 30, 2006 04:29 PM
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I'd very much like to join the society but unfortunately I have never been able to find out how. It doesn't seem to have individual membership. I can't always get to evening meetings due to work commitment or being a Westminster City Councillor. How do I join?

Posted by: David Boothroyd at August 1, 2006 09:57 AM
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Bosnia and Kosovo are to be an example to us? Don't make me laugh. That intervention was a disaster. No one in that conflict had clean hands, but Clinton decided to intervene - perhaps partly to distract attention from the Monica affair - on the Muslim side. It ended up with cluster bombs being dropped on civilian Serb populations. Now the US is about ready to acquiese in demands to hive off part of the territory of a sovereign state (Kosovo and Metohija) and turn it over to be likely turned into an Islamic Terror State actually in Europe. Rice has met the indicted war criminal Agim Ceku.

Was that a wise adventure? If Henry Jackson would think that all of this a good idea, then Henry Jackson is not the sort of man we need advice from.

Even the hard-left journalist Stephen Schwartz who is a Muslim convert and who cheer-led for Clintonian policy is now disturbed by what is happening in Kosovo. Is the Henry Jackson Society aware of how many churches and monasteries have been demolished in Kosovo - under the eyes of the UN? More here. Has it thought about the consequences of a Radical Islamic state acting as a gateway into Europe? Did it even notice that Saudi money and Arab terrorists were playing their part in the Balkans? Is it aware that there is a worldwide jihad going on?

And no "democracy" will not be brought to Iraq, as was always clear to anyone who knew the background to the matter. Removing Saddam may have been a good idea; trying to "bring democracy" was not.

I think we can do without the Henry Jackson Society's naivety.

Posted by: damian at August 2, 2006 09:32 PM
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