Fifty British foreign policy “experts” wrote a scathing letter to Prime Minister Blair this week.
We the undersigned former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States.
They’re unhappy about Israel.
The decision by the USA, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a “Road Map” for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds. … But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence.
Well, the Israelis seem to have done a pretty good job of curbing the violence. Note the sharp dropoff in suicide bombings in the last 4 years.
Britain and the other sponsors of the Road Map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.
No, they waited for Arafat to act like a statesman who wanted to found a nation, and not a kleptocratic thug. The U.S. played along with the fiction until recently.
Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood.
You mean the abandonment of the fictitious ‘right of return’ which was stupidly fuzzed over in the Oslo talks by these professionals?
Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.
And, looking at the facts on the ground in 2003, which successes, exactly, would those be? What ‘principles’, other than an overweening pride, and respect for the ‘process of negotiation’ for its own sake, would those be?
This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.
The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement.
No accurate plan, that’s for sure. Here’s the one valid criticism.
All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the Coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case.
To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful.
Well, that’s funny. Because if the masses of Iraqi people were rising up, the news would look somewhat different than it does, wouldn’t it? Which means that – wait for it – the forces we oppose are terrorists, fanatics, and foreigners. The masses of people haven’t, and aren’t – the trick is going to be making sure they won’t.
… The military actions of the Coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them.
It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders.
Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition.
Thanks, guys but war under diplomatic control was tried several places by UN forces. Didn’t work so well. Let’s not do it any more, OK? Soldiers fight, and make those decisions – when the fighting is over, or has the chance to be over, let’s let the diplomatic corps take the lead.
Here’s a metaphor. If someone (my uncle, say) has pancreatic cancer for two years and doesn’t know about it – is the surgeon who’s excising that cancer causing a problem, or solving one?
The basic failure of this cohort of diplomats – in the UK, US, UN, and elsewhere – is that for twenty years, they were silent and ineffective while Islamism grew in power and hatred.
They believed that by negotiating the terms of ‘stability’ – because, after all, when you negotiate for a living, a successful negotiation is the major thing you’re looking for – even as one side made it clear that stability wasn’t what was being sought – they were accomplishing something.
What they were doing was selling my uncle Lydia Pinkham’s Elixir as the cancer grew deeper into his body. These men (interestingly, it appears to be an all-male group) should be ashamed; ashamed of writing this letter, and more deeply, ashamed for having dined on the Queen’s silver while allowing this problem to grow unchecked.
In fact, they not only let it grow unchecked, but stood by, supportive and silent, as any real peace process was undermined by oil bribes.
One of the keys of any successful negotiation is the willingness to simply go ‘basta!’ – no more – and get up and walk from the table.
The problem with a policy of engagement and continuous negotiation supported by this crew is that you preclude that possibility.
Bush and Sharon have done just that in Palestine, and Bush and Blair have done it in Iraq.
That’s infinitely preferable to a policy in which diplomats confer in luxury while suicide bombers murder innocents.
My uncle had surgery two weeks ago, at Columbia-Presbyterian in New York. His surgery was successful, and he’s recovering at home.
Look, I’m not a historian of the Middle East, nor someone who lives and breathes foreign policy.
But I do know failure when I see it.
And I’ll quote an old reply of mine to Trent, who challenged my credentials in this area:
…the genius of the American system is that there certainly are experts on game theory, diplomatic history, and policy who have substantive and valuable expertise in these areas.
And they all work for guys like me. Our Congress and our President are typically business men and women, lawyers, rank amateurs when it comes to the hard games that they study so diligently at ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration). And that’s a good thing, in fact, it’s a damn good thing.
It is a good thing because the unique power of the United States comes from our willingness to diffuse power down into the ranks – to act in ways outside what a small cadre of mandarins sitting at a capital can envision.
I’ll stand by those words, and voice a small appreciation that guys like the jittery fifty work for Tony Blair, and not the other way around.