Re-building Libya The Guardian 21 Oct 2011

Re-building Libya The Guardian 21 Oct 2011


Now the real work starts.


If there is one thing more fraught, more attended by failure and more difficult to do than fighting a war, it is building the peace which follows. Our modern wars are fought in weeks or months – but building the peace is measured in decades Wars are violent and swift. Building peace is long, painful and almost always untidy. Winning wars needs decisiveness. Building peace needs strategic patience.


What happens next in Libya is unlikely to be tidy or elegant to watch. Get used to it. The country is tribal by nature and the war has been tribal in its conduct. Finding a constitution – probably a highly devolved one – which can provide a framework to contain these pressures is not going to be easy – especially with such oil revenues to be distributed, so much religion to infect minds and so many arms in the peoples’ hands.


But there are strengths to build on. These are gifted people with some very able individuals who are more than capable of efficiently running their country, given a chance. With the world waiting at Tripoli’s door for its precious high quality crude, Libya will not be poor. There is real international goodwill to be built on. And, it seems a real desire among Libya’s people for genuine democracy – though note please London, Paris and Washington – one which will more likely see Turkey’s Islamic democracy as it model, than our secular ones.


So what can we do to help?


Only what we are asked to. This was a different war – we played our part to enable the Libyan people fight their own war on their own terms. We have to be prepared to let them build their own peace on the same basis. Interference will be unwise and unwelcome as they have already made clear. Sending in floods of uninvited businessmen to capture contracts as reward for our help is not likely to be well received. Ditto despatching the kind of small army of wet-behind-the-ears economic graduates to “help them re-build their economy” which we sent to Iraq in the early days.


When, as seems almost inevitable, the building of the Libyan peace starts getting untidy and inelegant to watch, let us remember when we did it our way in Iraq and Afghanistan, it wasn’t exactly a success either.


Our biggest mistake in Bosnia Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere – from which perhaps the Libyans can learn – was to fail to make the rule of law the first priority. Thus corruption, that constant by-product of war, became ingrained in the peace. The establishment of the rule of law – perhaps even martial law at first – which then develops over time into a reliable legal, judicial and prosecutorial structure based on the cultural norms of the country, is the essential framework which give the security people need and the framework for ownership and economic activity.


A key and early ingredient in this is to establish the state’s monopoly in the use of lethal force. This will be one of Libya’s earliest challenges – taking privately possessed arms out of circulation. It will not happen quickly and it may need to be approached with subtlety as well as forceful insistence (in Kosovo they simply converted the rebel forces into a kind of home guard as an interim step).


The next priority will be to get the economy going again. Jobs and the prospect of better times is the best way to persuade people to be committed to the future rather than re-living the past.


And then of course there’s elections.


Everyone wants these early – I prefer them as late as possible. Our mistake is to believe that elections are democracy.


Democracy consists of much more than just voting. It also needs the rule of law; an effective constitution capable of holding the executive to account; a free press; a vibrant civil society. I suspect that the public pressure for early elections cannot be long resisted. But the more of the above that can be put in place before voting, the safe the outcome will be.


Three final points.


It is a miracle that the fall of the dictators we supported like Gaddafi, has not been followed by Islamic fundamentalism. But if the re-building of Libya (and Egypt and Tunisia) fails, it will be. What happens now in the Maghreb will determine the nature of the whole of Europe’s southern relationship for decades to come. Helping Libya where we can is most profoundly in our long term interests.


It matters on a wider scale too. The eastern Mediterranean looks to me like one of the world’s most dangerous coming flash-points. A north Africa that is settled, stable and progressing towards Islamic democracy will greatly diminish the instability of that region. One that remains turbulent and full of conflict, greatly increase it.


And lastly, do not forget Turkey. They are now key and constructive players in this region (and very much so in Libya). Our old partners in Washington now view the Pacific, more than the Atlantic and the Mediterranean as their key area of interest. If we Europeans are looking for new partners in this region which is so crucial to us, Turkey would be a good place to start.





Lebanon 6 August 2006

Article Lebanon

6 Aug 2006


Listening to Prime Minister Blair’s recent “arc of extremism” speech, with its echoes of King Abdullah of Jordan’s “Shi’ite crescent”, one may have doubts about his grasp of the intricacies of the Middle East. But his basic point about the Manichean struggle under way between moderation and extremism in the Arab world is correct. There can be no doubt about who will win this in the end. The great civilising and tolerant religion of Islam will, in the long run, no more fall prey to the forces of extremism, darkness and ignorance, than did Christianity and the West when it to was (still is in some cases) challenged by the call of extremism.


Unfortunately, as Keynes once said, in the long term we are all dead. And a large number have been added to the cruel list of the unjust dead in Lebanon and Israel these last weeks. As I write it looks as though as though the United Nations Security Council will, finally, pass a resolution calling for a cease fire and interposing an international force between the warring parties. We are at last, perhaps, God willing coming into the end game of these weeks of tragedy and danger. Not that it will be plain sailing after this – as one part of this crisis draws to a close a new passage, perhaps of equal danger, will open up. If an international force is deployed, how does it steer the delicate course between being too weak and becoming trapped and impotent in the conflict, like the UN in Bosnia – and being too strong and swiftly becoming the enemy that stands between either or both sides and the war aims they have not yet abandoned. An international force, however strong can only maintain peace by consent – it cannot make peace between two parties who don’t want it. Any international force will need to be strong, strongly backed by the international community and have a strong mandate. All these things can be built in New York. But the crucial condition for their success, the consent of the parties to peace on the ground, can only be built in the Lebanon. Maybe both sides have achieved enough to call it a victory and are exhausted enough to want it to end. The next few days will tell, but I can’t see it yet.


What we do not need to wait to see is how much has been lost in all this cruel stupidity. And I am not just referring to the innocent dead – so many of them children – who are filling up the graveyards.


Israel has lost most and suddenly finds itself in a weakening position, after decades of, largely, getting its own way in the Middle East. The corner stone of Israel’s strategy for survival, the invincibility of its armed forces has been severely damaged. Its political position, especially in the West has been weakened by its abandonment of proportionality and the terrible mistakes it has made in targeting.


But the Arab world has lost as well. Hezbollah’s sustained and flagrant breach of UN Security Council Resolutions, not just recently, but over the last few years, may have done it no harm on the Arab street. But it has exposed Hezbollah to the wider world as an organisation of threat rather than responsibility. The wisest thing for Hezbollah now would be for it to convert its relative military gains in this contest, into political gains, by showing itself to be a responsible partner in building a new peace in Lebanon. But will it be wise enough to do this ? The biggest losers of all, however have been moderate forces in the Arab world. The real importance of the events in Lebanon may not lie in Lebanon. They may come from a dramatic shift in the centre of gravity of Arab opinion, and especially opinion on the street. The effects of this have yet to be seen – but they are likely to be felt well beyond the borders of Lebanon.


Iran and Syria have been the big gainers. They have been wise enough to stay out of the fight and look set now to have a part to play in any wider peace that comes out of all this.


And it is to that peace that the world should now turn its attention. The only redeeming feature of these weeks of blood tragedy and loss would be if it led, at last to the wider Middle Eastern settlement which has been so miserably long in coming, which includes at last a resolution to the Palestine problem, which provides the only context for a US exit with dignity from the Iraqi tragedy and which would enable the great nation of Arabs to get back to what they do best – living in peace and pursuing civilisation, rather than war.


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Iraq and Germany 16 Sep 2012

Those of us who, like me, supported the removal of Saddam Hussein by force, now have to face up to the awkward task of deciding what can be salvaged from this mess. Which is what the new Iraq study group chaired by Tom King, Margaret Jay and I will undertake under the Television cameras of Channel 4 starting on XXX.


The tragedy is that the military invasion of Iraq was not a failure – it was a success. But what happened afterwards has been a copybook of how to make a mess of the peace that follows. It didn’t have to be like this. And perhaps it wouldn’t have been if only those responsible had not been so determined to ignore the lessons of the past.


In 2003, the US administration, aware that there might be were lessons to be learnt, especially from the rebuilding of Germany after World War Two, convened historians to Washington to help spell them out. One was Dr Helmut Trotnow a leading expert on the occupation of Germany. He later discovered that all the recommendations made at the conference were completely ignored by the US war planners.


The allies ran Germany for four years from 1945 to 1949. In that period, the rule of law was re-established, human rights respected, robust democratic institutions created and the foundations of Europe’s strongest economy, laid. Much of this happened despite some spectacular blunders in the early days, many of which have been repeated in Iraq.


The allies in 1945 planned to remove 180,000 officials from their posts. But they soon discovered that if they did, they would have no-one to run the state. It was largely an accident that this denazification policy was reversed. The western allies gradually came to realise that the future threat came from Russia, not Germany, and that the Germans were essential allies against that threat. Former membership of the Nazi party ceased to be a barrier. Germany’s second President was a former member of the Nazi Party.


The situation which the coalition found in Iraq was similar. Most of those responsible for running the country were members of the Ba’ath party. Yet, ignoring the early fiasco of denazification in Germany, the Coalition proceeded to purge all the Ba’athists from their posts. And then found, as in Germany, they were left with no-one to run the state and its services.


Then there was the similarly disastrous decision to disband the entire Iraqi army. Here, the coalition did not have to look as far back as Germany. In most more recent international interventions, the soldiers of the defeated army had been given a month’s salary, and then either reintegrated into a reformed army or helped to find a job in civilian life. But in Iraq, the army was peremptorily dissolved, leaving the Coalition with too few soldiers to maintain security and abolishing at a stroke, both the status and the income of an officer corps which numbered 25,000 above the rank of Colonel. For them, joining the insurgency became a very attractive option and that is where many ended up.


One of the ironies of the post war German experience was that it was the US who were the most enlightened and the British and the French the most reactionary. The US military had no truck with the ridiculous instructions of General Montgomery to British troops not to speak to any Germans. The Americans were the first to realise that the policy of dismantling German industry was a mistake; in the interests of lasting peace, it was far better to help to build it up. The British and French held on to counterproductive, even colonialist notions of punishing the Germans far longer, partly in order to protect their own industries from German competition. In the coalition in Iraq, by contrast, the Americans have proved by far the least sensitive to the local population.


International intervention has, since the end of the Cold War, halved the number of wars in the world and reduced the number of war casualties by even more. But success depends on following basic rules which were systematically ignored in Iraq. Plan even harder for peace than for war; you will probably need more troops to provide security after the war than you needed to win it; make the most of the “golden hour” after the war ends; creating security should be the first priority; you may have to remove those at the top of the old regime, but you will need the rest to run the state work with the local population and its traditions; you need the help of the neighbours – one of the big mistakes over Iraq was to make enemies of Iran and Syria.


Finally, you are more likely to succeed if you replicate what succeeded in the past, rather than repeating what failed.


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Iraq The Guardian 14 Aug 2014

Guardian 14 Aug 2014


Three years ago, when the world obsessed about President Assad, some of us warned that Syria was only one front-line in a wider sectarian war between Sunni and Shia; that the spread of militant jihadism among the Sunni community, funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatr, was a preparation for this. And that, before long this movement, like the 30 years religious war of eighteenth century Europe, would threaten to engulf the entire Muslim world.


This is the true context in which the ISIS terror in the Middle East must be seen. It is why we need to understand that though the world watches Iraq today, just as it did Syria yesterday, the actual war being fought is a regional one, with potential to spread across Islam world-wide. It is not an accident that many ISIS fighters are foreigners – many of them not even Arabs. Or that they use the most modern 21st century global communications to evangelise their medieval horrors.


Of course, seeing the tragedy on Mount Sinjar, something must be done. But then we said the same about the slaughter in the now forgotten suburbs of Damascus. What we need now is not just a plan for a tragedy, but a strategy for a widening war.


What is happening in the Middle East, like it or not, is the wholesale re-writing of the Sykes-Picot borders of Versailles 1918, in favour of an Arab world whose shapes will be arbitrated more by religious dividing lines, than the old imperial conveniences of a hundred years ago.


For as long as Western policy makers deny, even tacitly, that this is the most likely outcome of present events, so long will they fail to find solutions to the Middle Eastern conundrums that confront us.


And so we come to the case of the beleaguered Kurds and their desperate neighbours, the Yazidis trapped in terror and desolation on Sinjar.


And so, we drop humanitarian aid. But then what? We did the same in Srebrenica. It worked well enough for a few days. But in the absence of a credible Western policy in Bosnia, it only space for mass murder later.


So what credible policies are available to us in Iraq?


There are three.


The first is an all out, long-term Western military engagement to defeat ISIS and save Baghdad. This is favoured by some who have not yet learnt the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a few superannuated Generals seeking more spending on defence. It is, by far the least practical and most unwise option open to us. Western populations would not support it and we no longer have the military means to do it.


The second is to help the Iraqi state to defeat ISIS themselves. This, it seems is current Western policy. But I fear it amounts to little more than elevating a desperate hope, over any reasonable expectation. It was the collapse of the Iraqi army which gave ISIS the advanced American weapons they now use to drive back the Kurds. And it has been the subsequent absence of any effective Government in Baghdad, which has allowed the jihadists to continue widening their advance on all fronts. The Potemkin reconstruction of the Iraqi Government in the last few days is unlikely to alter a fundamental truth; the Iraqi state is not, and is unlikely to become, an effective instrument for a Western backed attempt to tackle the ISIS insurrection. Unless of course Iran, too gets directly involved. But that would lead inevitably to the creation of a de facto greater Iran extending into Iraq and to a further widening of the sectarian fault-lines. This may not be avoidable – but should we be encouraging it?


The third option is to help the Kurds by all means possible – assistance to house the Yazidis, equipment, military training, advice, protective air-strikes – anything short of current operational boots on the ground. The aim would be to make Iraqi Kurdistan the northern bulwark against the ISIS advance. The Government seems at last to be tiptoeing in this direction – but why so half-hearted? It’s a strange scruple that flies in other people’s weapons, but denies access to our own? Is there a difference?


But there are downsides here, too – big ones. Whether intentional or not, we will end up acting as hand-maiden to Kurdish ambitions for full independence – and in so doing, effectively assisting in the dismemberment of Iraqi. Part of the deal with the Kurds would have to be an end to interference in Turkey, who have their own problems with Kurdish secessionism. We would also be tacitly accepting the end of the Sykes – Picot borders in the Middle East.


So this will only work if it is, not just a short term plan, but part of an integrated long term strategy. A new rapprochement with Iran to act as a counter balance to those who promote Sunni jihadism. Deeper engagement with Turkey. Greater pressure on those Gulf states who fund jihad – (is the Government’s reluctance here, because of Tory friends amongst the Gulf states?). And a new determination to deal with illegal Israeli settlements, as a prelude to a lasting peace in Palestine.


None of this will be easy, of course. But better surely, to face up to the realities of the post-Sykes-Picot Middle East and influence it where we can, than lose the moment standing impotently by hoping that yesterday will come back again.


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Iraq 17 Nov 2012

There are now no good routes – only painful ones – out of the disaster which the Coalition has brought upon itself in Iraq.


Though history may well say that occupation of Iraq was a classic of how to fight this kind of conflict, what happened next has been a classic of how not to build the peace that follows.

We have failed in Iraq. This is not to say that nothing positive can now emerge; or that ignominious retreat is the only outcome. It is merely to state what is now obvious to all – that the Coalition cannot now achieve the ambitious aims it set for itself four years ago. Iraq is a particularly painful example of the hubris which attends over ambitious aims, when it comes to post conflict reconstruction.


So what should we do now?


Well, the question is no longer shall we withdraw? but how and when and in what circumstances?


And here we have a problem. We are no longer in control in Iraq – our actions no longer shape events, they are shaped by them. And that applies to the circumstances of our withdrawal, too.

We are now in that dangerous territory where polices no longer define outcomes, they only give us the best chance of realising hopes.


And in the bonfire of hopes and ambitions in Iraq of the last four years, only one has survived as remotely achievable. To maintain a unitary Iraq and avoid, if we can, its dismemberment into chaos.


This can be no other aim for our policy now but this. For only if we achieve it can we have any hope of an orderly withdrawal and any prospect of leaving behind relatively stable peace.


What this means is a policy with three ingredients – and cutting and running isn’t one of them.


First we must continue to strengthen the army. The Iraqi police are a disaster and will remain so. The only force in Iraq with any remote potential for acting as the last bulwark against a descent into civil war and ultimate anarchy, is now the army – or at least we have to hope so.


Second we need to be more pro-active in seeking a political solution to the future shape of a unitary Iraq. Everyone knows that this lies in a strongly federal Iraq – but no-one can agree what that should look like. Current international policy is to stand to aside, leave this to domestic populations and play no part in this debate. This is a luxury we cannot afford any longer.


Day by bloody day Iraq is being reshaped, not by rational dialogue, but through murder, violence and ethnic cleansing. We may not now be able to stop Iraq breaking up – but we should not wish it to happen, or stand idly by while it does.


And the best – arguably the only way to prevent this is for the international community now to take a pro-active role in creating Iraq’s new federal structure before it is too late.


This is not a job for the Coalition – they cannot do it. It is a job for the wider international community, including, crucially Iraq’s neighbours, who are the third element in any plan to avoid a deeper catastrophe.


Perhaps it is not yet quite too late – I doubt if most of Iraq’s neighbours – with the possible exception of Iran – really want to see chaos and a vacuum of power on their borders.


But the only plan for a federal, unitary Iraq which could succeed would be one buttressed by an international community agreement, to which the neighbours themselves are committed – like the Dayton agreement, which enshrined the shape of Bosnia in an international agreement after the war there ended in 1995.


Is this possible? It will certainly be difficult – but it offers the best solution – perhaps now the only one which can avoid the catastrophe of collapse in Iraq.


It is no longer within the power of the United States to broker such a regional solution. But there could be role for the EU here.


There is already a group called the Neighbours Forum, which consists of Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It meets regularly at Foreign and Interior Minster level and has recently invited the EU and UN as observers. The EU could and should now, urgently use this forum as a framework to work towards a wider regional settlement which includes the central question of Palestine and incorporates an agreement, guaranteed by the international community and underpinned by the neighbours, on the future shape of Iraq.


There is no other context within which any hope of a reasonable end to the Iraq tragedy can be achieved.

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Iraq – Sunday Telegraph 15 Oct 2006

Iraq – Sunday Telegraph 15 Oct 2006

Paddy Ashdown



It is well known that military men speak bluntly – and General Sir Richard Dannatt has a reputation for being no exception to the rule. Nevertheless his recent comments look more like a case of placing large army boot into senior army mouth, than blunt soldier speak; more accidental discharge, than a well placed salvo directed at a deliberate target.


His claim that this is not news because he has said no more than others have said already, misses the point. For others to speculate that the direness of the Coalition’s position in Iraq belies the Government’s re-assurances to the contrary, is one thing. For the head of the Army to confirm it is quite another. Among other things it raises constitutional questions which General Sir Richard and the Prime Minister will need to sort out between them.


Meanwhile the truth has now been blurted into the open and needs to be addressed.


What do we do next in Iraq?


There is a view that the whole Iraq operation has been a disaster from start to finish. This is not wholly true.


In fact Donald Rumsfeld was right when he insisted that the invasion of Iraq did not have to follow the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force, but could be accomplished with a light level force using modern all arms manoeuvre warfare. The conflict phase of the Iraq war was a near copybook example of how such a war can be won.


But the reconstruction phase which followed has been a near copybook example of how the peace can be lost afterwards. It all began because the light level forces deployed to win the war proved totally inadequate to secure the peace which followed. This led to the commission of the cardinal sin in peace making – losing control of the security space after the war ends. The wholesale disbandment of the Iraqi Army and security structures, together with the institutions of the state made matters worse by leaving the coalition with too few soldiers to secure the rule of law and no-one to help them administer the state. The dismal story of the last few years in Iraq has been no more than a recitation of the litany of actions which have been necessary to try and recover the situation from those initial errors.


In state building and reconstruction, the central battle field is the battle field of public opinion. If you cannot win there, you cannot win. Foreigners cannot reconstruct a state by force against the hostility of its people. But as Sir Richard has blurted out, that is what it has come to in Iraq. I understand that a recent opinion poll conducted by the Ministry of Defence shows that, in comparison to wide spread public support for our troops in Basra at the start, well over 90% of the population now no longer see the troops there as a help and want them to leave. In these circumstances the presence of soldiers is bound to become, as Sir Richard said, part of the problem, not part of the solution.


It is not the soldiers who are to be blamed for this – though they are the ones who suffer because of it. Soldiers cannot build peace – only politicians can. In these circumstances, as we should know from Northern Ireland, the soldier’s job is to hold the ring while a political solution is found.


But no sustainable political solution has been forthcoming in Iraq, leaving the soldiers, as General Dannett has pointed out, in an extremely exposed and dangerous position.


Precipitate withdrawal – cutting and running – is not an option. The consequences for Iraq, the Middle East, the so called (and misnamed) “war on terror” and for Western and above all US power, are just too horrendous.


But we cannot leave our soldiers in a position where they are asked to do the impossible – compensate with military action (and attendant casualties) for the failure to find political solutions.


The blunt fact is that the Coalition no longer controls events in Iraq; events, in large measure, are controlling the Coalition. There may not yet be a technical civil war going on in the country, but slowly, inexorably and day by day Iraq is moving towards are more fractured and ethnically divided state than we would have found acceptable at the start. I am not sure that this can now be stopped.


But I am very sure that we will not even be able to influence and shape this process, let alone stop it, if we continue to be behind events rather than ahead of them. I have always been rather wary that a fully federal solution in Iraq would merely prove to be the prelude to the break up of the country. But that pass has now been sold. The Coalition has accepted that a federal solution is now the only option, but does not wish to get itself involved in shaping its structure or deciding where the boundaries of the federal units will fall. I am not sure we can now afford that luxury. For the future shape of Iraq is being decided day by violent day, not by politicians, but by killing and ethnic cleansing.


There must now be some question as to whether it is possible to preserve the unity of the Iraqi state. But we will stand the best chance of doing this by taking a more active role in shaping a federalised Iraq within a wider Middle Eastern settlement. One of the cardinal rules of peace making is that it is easier when you have at least the acquiescence of the neighbours and harder when you don’t. I doubt that Syria – or for that matter Iran – want a chaotic and disintegrated Iraq on their door step.


It will be neither easy nor comfortable to put together a regional settlement which includes – as it must, a solution to the question of Palestine. The US can no longer do this – but the EU can and should. For a wider regional solution, together with the creation of a sustainable federalised state in Iraq, probably now offers us the last, least worst chance of getting out of this in some dignity and relieving our hard pressed soldiers of the impossible job of trying to compensate with force for a comprehensive failure of politics.


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Article Guardian Middle East 28 July 2006-07-28 By Paddy Ashdown

Article Guardian

Middle East 28 July 2006-07-28 By Paddy Ashdown

 As Tony Blair returns from Washington contemplating the Middle East, I would commend to him the prayer of Archbishop Grigua: “Lord, things are serious – this time please come yourself and do not send your son, for this no time for a boy”.


Sometimes events surpass hyperbole – and this I fear is one of them. It is impossible to overstate what is now at stake in the Middle East. What is already clear is that the shape of the Middle East cannot be the same again. But with so much dry tinder about and so many firebrands, what we cannot know is whether this will affect us all on a much wider and more dangerous scale.


It is also difficult to comprehend the exquisite nature of the dilemma on whose horns we find ourselves impaled.


On the one hand we would all like to see a cease fire, preferably immediately, backed by a settlement and the quick interposition of a peace keeping force on the ground in Lebanon and Gaza. But I remember the cease fires in Bosnia. They came and went like sunny afternoons. And when they had gone, they left the intervening force, UNPROFOR once again as impotent observers to a conflict neither side wanted to end and no-one in the international community was prepared to stop. A cease fire without the ingredients of a lasting peace and a willingness by both sides to observe it, would place any intervening international force in an equally impossible position. If they were weak they would very quickly be turned into UNPROFOR. If they were strong they would soon become an occupying force standing between the combatants, especially Hezbollah and Hamas, and the war aims they had not yet forsaken.


On the other hand, if this conflict continues the chances of it widening and widening grow greater and greater with every passing day. Shutting it down quickly must now be an imperative aim of Western policy.


Hezbollah may have started this with an outrageous breach of international law and a sustained and flagrant contravention of a UN Security Council Resolution. But it is not Hezbollah’s position which is weakening now. It is Israel’s. Their stated war aim was to destroy Hezbollah. I am not entirely certain why, having failed to do this by occupying Lebanon, they thought they could achieve it by bombing. But whatever their thinking, they have been unable to deliver the knock out blow to Hezbollah which was their primary military aim. From now on, Hezbollah does not have to win. It merely has to survive as a potent force – and it appears to be doing just that. Meanwhile the political damage done to Israel through miscalculation, overreaction and targeting errors is incalculable. But there is no comfort to be taken in the thought that Israel may be reaping the whirlwind it has helped to sow. A defeat for Israel and a victory for Hezbollah would have terrifying consequences for the Middle East, which would probably begin with regime change on a wide scale (but not the kind Washington looks for) and could end with the very battle for survival which Israel has always claimed that its use of military force was designed to avoid.


And on the anvil of Israel’s failure also sits the failure of what I suspect was the strategy of Blair and perhaps Bush. The most positive construction which can be put on this is that they hoped Israel would weaken first Hezbollah and then Iran and Syria, and thus create the context for a wider Middle Eastern settlement, incorporating Palestine and easing our problems in Iraq. Israel’s failure so far to achieve its war aims, means that this strategy, too is in danger of being frustrated.


The world should get very nervous when the US feels frustrated and Israel faces defeat. This is the time when miscalculations of even greater magnitude become even more possible. There are powerful voices amongst the neo-con Christian right who are currently so influential in Washington, that the US policy aim should be to use Israel’s excesses to draw in Iran and Syria, so that the US could “take them down”– as a prelude to re-shaping the Middle East for democracy etc. This is the Clint Eastwood, “c’mon punk make my day” strategy. If it were adopted it would be bound to lead to a widening conflagration which would embrace the fragile tinderboxes of central Asia, and goodness knows where beyond. I have to believe that no responsible government, in Washington or elsewhere would follow such a path. But…….I wish I felt more confident, in that confidence.


There is only one solution to this crisis. And it is the same solution we have to find in Iraq. To go for a wider Middle East settlement and to do it urgently. The US cannot do this. But Europe can. Would this mean talking to Iran and Syria? of course it would. You cannot make peace by talking to your own side – you can only make peace by talking to the other side. Would this mean a solution to Palestine? of course it must, for this is the burning coal that lies at the heart of the fire. Would this be unwelcome to Washington at the moment ? probably. But not if, in the end it provides a way out of the impasse in which they find themselves. Would this mean Europe embarking on its own course? Yes – but this is the right time to do it.


I cannot believe that America’s strategy is to widen the war. But, just in case Europe’s strategy now should be to widen the peace. It is the right thing to do – and we should do it now.


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Syria, Alleppo = Total Politics 11 Aug 2016


Aleppo – Paddy Ashdown


As I write, Russian forces claim to have initiated a three-hour ceasefire in Aleppo to allow the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid. This will be welcome news to the citizens who are trapped in the violent struggle between the Russian-backed Syrian army and the coalition of rebel forces. However, as the UN has stressed, this might give civilians a pause from bombing but it is barely enough time to deliver vital relief- in particular potable water, which has become increasingly scarce.


Divided between the Syrian-government backed West and the rebel backed East, Aleppo has become a key battleground in the Syrian war. Just thirty miles from the Turkish border, it is a key city for supply lines. Over the past few months, the Government has appeared to be closing in on the rebel held parts of the city, but in the last few days the rebels have launched a successful counter-attack, which has led to sharp intensification of the fighting.


The fledging peace-process which started earlier this year is in disarray, and this revival of the seemingly beleaguered rebel forces shows that this war is far from over.


It’s now a year since Russia committed its military to fighting on behalf of Assad, and the West has allowed them to dictate the military terms of this conflict ever since. When the UK parliament backed RAF action against Daesh in December last year, the motion acknowledged that the mission against them could only be successful if the conflict in Syria as a whole was addressed, and certainly at the beginning of the year things seems to be moving in the right direction: Cameron hosted the Syria Donor Conference here in London, a tentative ceasefire began, and key actors were finally around the table in Geneva.


Since then, however, the UK’s distraction with EU referendum has given us an excuse to take our eye off the ball. Now it is time to remind both our own citizens and the rest of the world that Brexit does not mean Britain has turned its back on the world, and prove to them that Boris Johnson leading the Foreign Office does not mean that the we no longer have a role to play in serious international issues.

Humanitarian access is not a luxury, it is a right, and UK must support the UN in making sure this is established. Proper access to civilians in Aleppo is not made possible by a 3-hour ceasefire, despite Russia’s claims this morning. Humanitarian corridors must be established to allow UN relief to enter the city, which will require an agreement by all sides, including the rebels. If these corridors can be created, there may well be the chance to develop permanent safe zones or even no-fly zones. Nothing should be off the table, less we risk leaving Syria to another five years of brutal conflict.


I remember watching Sarajevo starve in 1992 because the West would not act. While we dithered a quarter of a million innocents were killed, before finally we were forced to act. Will we never learn? Must we make the same mistake again and leave perhaps two million to the mercy of those who want to make them instruments of war in a brutal conflict whose only purpose now is wholesale and indiscriminate destruction?


If the UN cannot secure safe access on the ground, we must consider flying aid into besieged areas. We cannot allow Russia be a co-conspirator with Assad in holding the lives of these desperate people as hostage any longer. The Government should immediately start the process for a UN Resolution empowering aid drops to besieged areas, if adequate humanitarian corridors are not established.


To do less would be to turn our backs on more than a million people, mostly women, children and the aged, who now live in mortal danger and look to us for help.