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Originally published in the Sunday Times.
To read some of the responses to Theresa May’s speech in America last week, you could be forgiven for interpreting the whole thing as a grand act of political grave-pissing.
In 1999 Tony Blair spoke in Chicago, famously outlining the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism. In Philadelphia on Thursday our present prime minister was alleged to have buried that doctrine, laying out instead the icy rules of the practical new era. The prime minister’s advisers may be happy with such coverage, but it cannot conceal the simpler fact: this PM retains most of the foreign policy stances of her predecessors, because she faces all the same problems.
It is true that in Philadelphia May called for a break from what she called “the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over,” she declared.
But, like Blair in 1999, May also spoke of the importance of ensuring that “our values will endure”, and of the need to “defend and project” those values, especially when other powers are seeking to step forward with values of their own. It was, in fact, a carefully worded defence of intervention rather than withdrawal from the world.
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