London Notes

Feb. 1 2002 3:38 PM

London Notes

Designer diplomacy.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative Party leader, has accused the Prime Minister of indulging in "designer diplomacy." This wasn't a belated attack on the exotic outfits the Tony Blair and his wife Cherie wore to an Indian banquet a few weeks ago, although the fashionable black Nehru suit worn by Blair that night was widely ridiculed at home. "Designer diplomacy," in Duncan Smith's view, meant an "unrealistic and deluded" sense of Britain's power. "Countries which seek to pursue ambitious foreign policies which neither advance their interests nor match their resources," the Tory leader told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, "are putting their standing and possibly their security at risk. And there is worse. An unfocused approach to foreign policy leads to, and is often devised in pursuit of media grandstanding."

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The attack was timely, for at about the same time that Duncan Smith was making it Blair was at Downing Street, engaged in some media grandstanding with Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, passing through London on his way home from the United States. Part of Karzai's huge success in Washington, D.C., appears to have been his green cape, which a number of excited U.S. senators asked if they could try on. In London, Karzai was wearing a less-striking grey cape. His green cape may have needed a good clean after all the wear and tear it was subjected to on Capitol Hill, but in any case, the grey one blended in better with the London surroundings. We don't know what Blair thought of it, but he didn't seem as "unrealistic and deluded" as Duncan Smith had claimed in his conversation with the Afghan leader. For he rejected Karzai's request for the deployment of more British troops in Afghanistan on the grounds that Britain couldn't afford them.

After saying goodbye to the Prime Minister, Karzai went to meet Duncan Smith and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram. We don't know what they thought of his cape either, but their position on Britain deploying more soldiers was much the same as Blair's. "We must always be very careful we do not get carried away with the rhetoric," Ancram said afterwards. Karzai might have been forgiven at this point for wondering if there was anything Britain might ever get carried away with. Media grandstanding could be one, for he then joined Duncan Smith and Ancram for some more of it, his grey cape looked very good beside their grey suits. Designer diplomacy is very popular these days.