MR. GOSCHEN'S SPEECH.
MR. GOSCHEN'S speech is a disappointing one. It is hardly the speech of a true statesman. It is a speech which probably embarrassed, and was intended to embarrass, the Government much more seriously than any of the speeches delivered from the Opposition benches ; but we find it very difficult to believe that Mr. Goschen really expected the Government to reply to the queries with which he pressed them, or intended these queries to have any further result than the damaging effect which unanswered queries always have upon the position of a Government. No one really knows better than Mr. Goschen that the appeal to a Government to take the House of Commons into its confidence, especially when issues are raised which may gravely affect the course of a campaign, is an appeal which could not possibly meet with the kind of response desired, except by a dereliction of duty much more serious than any which is now charged upon the Government. Mr. Goschen's is just the sort of appeal which a Government in the position of the present Government ought steadily to ignore, but which, as he well knows, it cannot ignore -without damage to its influence in the House of Commons. Now that is not the kind of tactics which we have a right to expect from Mr. Goschen. He, of all men, probably knows best what the duty of official secrecy requires, and how stringent, in such a situation as the present, it often is. If he himself were at the head of the Government he would, in relation to foreign affairs, be the most reticent head who had ever guided the House. He would no more take the House into his confidence on any matter likely to prejudice the course of events than he would, when he was at Constantinople, have confided to a literary friend the nature of the confidential negotiations which he was engaged in conducting. And therefore for him to press the Government to repose an impossible confidence in the House of Commons was clearly ungenerous, and hardly even fair. To press for an answer as to the mission of Fehmy Pasha, as to the understanding with Italy, as to the retention of Berber,—indeed, as to a Soudanese policy generally which could not possibly be independent of events,—was a very effective course to take on the part of one who wished to embarrass the Administration, but not altogether the frank and statesmanlike course which we should have expected from Mr. Goschen.
The most effective portion of Mr. Goschen's speech, because it was one which appealed at once to the Conservative objectors to the evacuation of the Soudan, and to the Radical objectors to the attack on the Mahdi, was that in which he urged again the argument pithily conveyed in the title of one of the Pall Mall's most effective, and, we will add, most malicious, articles on the Government,—we mean the article headed "First Slaughter, and. then Scuttle." Mr.
Goschen re-stated that argument in the form of a taunt levelled at Mr. Trevelyan for having proposed first to smash the Mahdi, and then to utilise 'a smashed Mandi" for the purpose of organising a stable Government in the Soudan. Well, we should reply that the argument is utterly without any but catch-penny effectiveness. When you have a great military aggression to meet, and do not intend to meet it by territorial subjugation, the only way by which, so far as we know, it can be met, is to break-up the aggressive power, and then substitute the best equivalent for it that you can find, whether that be the Government of the former aggressor after he has learned to measure more truly his own power, or some other Government which is less identified with the policy of aggression. What was the policy advocated by a considerable German party after the surrender of Paris except a policy such as might very fairly have been described as that of first smashing Napoleon III., and then utilising a smashed Napoleon to reorganise the Government of France? It is true that that was not the policy actually adopted, for the policy actually adopted was to smash the Republic, and then to utilise a smashed Republic in restoring organisation to France ; but there was no difference in principle between the one policy and the other. It has been precisely the same, and necessarily the same, in many of our Indian wars. We have had, for instance, to smash the Mahrattas, and then to utilise the smashed Mahrattas in reorganising the Mahratta States. Indeed, there is really nothing else to do, unless we are in a position to step in and rule for ourselves wherever we have put down aggression. What did the Northern States of America do in resisting the aggression of the Slave States? They first smashed the South, and then used the smashed South to set-up an administration which could no longer be aggressive, for the purposes of internal reorganisation. This highly-coloured and delusive way of putting the matter has really no argumentative force at all. The moral question involved is simply this,—Is the Mahdi an aggressor or not? Is he threatening all that there is of civilisation in Africa or not ? Is it he who is advancing against us because we are threatening him, or is it we who are advancing against him because he is threatening us V We take it that all reasonable men looking coolly at the situation would admit that the Mahdi is the aggressor ; that we should never have proposed an expedition to Khartoum at all, if he had quietly released the Egyptian garrisons, and told us that he had no designs on 'Egypt ; that in point of fact his siege of Khartoum, his destruction of General Gordon's force, and his subsequent advance Northwards, are the most open confessions possible that he intends to be aggressive, and to subdue to his faith and his rule all those parts of North Africa which reject it. That being so, we are pursuing in relation to the Mahdi precisely the same tactics which all Europe pursued in relation to Napoleon I., when it found him threatening the independence of all Europe. Our first duty is to break that destructive power, and our next to put in place of it—as we cannot possibly undertake to govern ourselves,—whatever seems most likely to secure a rough kind of order and peace to the Soudan. How is it possible to judge beforehand what power that will be ? How is it possible for any true statesman to pledge himself as to the policy he will pursue when the war is at an end, till he knows what kind of end the war takes. Mr. Goschen knows this as well as any member of the -Government. In his secret heart he would condemn as much as any one premature pledges either to hold Berber and the railway, or to substitute any particular power for the Mahdi, or even to reject beforehand all idea of negotiating with the Mahdi, who, if once convinced of the uselessness of dashing his forces to pieces against our power, might, at least conceivably, accept the position of a peaceable Sultan, for which General Gordon once designed him. Nothing can be less statesmanlike than to sketch out a policy beforehand when the very elements of the problem to be solved are not before us. And nothing can be unfairer than to describe the policy of defeating an intrinsically aggressive power as a mere policy of slaughter, and then to suggest grave censure because it does not in any sense meet the views of England to rule the vast deserts in which she has been compelled to fight and to conquer. Mr. Goschen's speech will, in our estimation, do him at least as much harm as a statesman, as his recent speeches in Edinburgh had done him good. In it he posed as a candid and impartial friend to the Government, but really played the part of an enemy, and not of a very generous enemy either.