The Conservative thinktank Policy Exchange has been very active lately in the debate about the British Government’s engagement with Islam.
The group sponsored New Statesman editor Martin Bright’s paper When Progressives treat with Reactionaries: The British State’s Flirtation with Radical Islamism, which has been received rather more enthusiastically on the right that on the left, as Bright noted in the Observer yesterday.
Policy Exchange has also sponsored the launch of Tory MP Michael Gove’s book, Celsius 7/7, which was described by Mathew Parris as "stark, staring bonkers," but received a more sympathetic reception from the New Statesman’s Nick Cohen.
I agree with Gove that the Foreign Office approach of dealing with selected community leaders is in many ways a relic of British colonialism, a point also made by Amartya Sen.
However, Policy Exchange Research Director Dean Godson has put a worrying spin on this idea, contrasting Britain’s ‘late-imperial defeatism’ with America’s ‘self-confident liberal interventionism.’
To my mind, the methods which Godson advocates for promoting American interventionism, raise questions about the roots of Policy Exchange’s foreign policy agenda:
During the Cold War, organisations such as the Information Research Department of the Foreign Office would assert the superiority of the West over its totalitarian rivals. And magazines such as Encounter did hand-to-hand combat with Soviet fellow travellers. For any kind of truly moderate Islam to flourish, we need first to recapture our own self-confidence. At the moment, the extremists largely have the field to themselves. (The Times)
The IRD was a British psychological warfare unit, while Encounter was a magazine funded by the CIA. For an introduction to the milieu in which both were active see Robin Ramsay’s article: The Influence of the Intelligence Services on the British Left.
The article also mentions Joseph Godson, US Labour attache in Britain during the 1950s, and father of Dean Godson.
Joseph Godson’s other son Roy is a Professor of International Relations at Georgetown University in Washington DC, described many years ago as a centre of Cold War sentiment among US intellectuals. His books include Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards: US Covert Action and Counterintelligence.
Professor Godson defines covert action as "influencing events in other parts of the world without revealing or acknowledging involvement." According to one reviewer, he concludes that: "appropriate use of ‘dirty tricks’ and effective counterintelligence enabled the United States to accomplish many important objectives that might otherwise have been unattainable by more conventional means."
Roy Godson is also the Director of the National Strategy Information Center, whose stated aim is to promote the rule of law around the world.However, it has been described as "the first right-wing think tank to address such issues as national security strategy, low-intensity conflict, operations of intelligence agencies, political warfare, and the role of nongovernmental groups, especially labor unions, in furthering foreign and military policy goals."
A 1993 Special Counsel’s report stated that Professor Godson solicited funds for Nicaragua on behalf of Oliver North, with most of the money ending up in accounts linked to funding of the Contras.
One of Roy Godson’s associates at the NSIC was Abram Shulsky, who went on to head up the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which has been accused of cherry-picking intelligence for propaganda purposes.
It would be interesting to know if the NSIC has any programmes in Britain.
Obviously, Roy Godson is not his brother’s keeper, although it is perhaps illuminating that the two siblings seem to share similar views about the value of covert operations.
The real question-mark is raised by Dean Godson’s own favourable references to the IRD and Encounter magazine.
How credible can Policy Exchange’s contribution to the debate on Islam in Britain be, when one of its leading lights sees a model for that debate in the covert state propaganda of the cold war?