The Jittery 50

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.

20 thoughts on “The Jittery 50”

  1. Do not be surprised about the letter from the “jittery fifty” – there are “Democrats” in the UK too. Blair wrote about these guys recently when he talked of those in the West who were “half-hoping” we lose, and enjoying the difficulty of the reality on the ground in Iraq. I do not remember much being written or said last year about how easy it would be to facilitate a demcratic government in Iraq. I remember a great deal being written said about it being impossible. The objective of a democratic Iraq is part of a daring strategy to defeat the radical Islamists, and perhaps boost the world of Islam into the 21st century. Bold strategies always will be nipped at by those who have grown comfortable with the status quo. Well the status quo in Iraq was unacceptable and in the Middle East it is unacceptable. Meanwhile, the coalition boots on the ground in Iraq will continue their difficult task and the ultimate goal will continue to be “peace in our time.” But it is a very different kind of “peace in our time” than you could expect from the “jittery fifty.”

  2. I’ts a bunch of ex-ambassadors, and the word is it was the ‘Camel Corps’, the Foreign Office Arabists. None of the really big names though. No Ambassadors to Washington, heads of service, no permanent under-secretaries etc. Sirs, not Lords. Second raters, if that.

    Useful article in the Telegraph on this.

    It looks like their real grouch is not so much Iraq as Israel, and Blair backing Bush backing Sharon. The Arabists no longer dominate British policy making re. the Middle East, and boy are they peeved. Good.
    They’ve been wrong about the Middle East for half a century. The last time the ‘camels’ were so upset was over the 1956 Suez Crisis and attack on Egypt.
    (That time the US was in the same camp as the Arabists!)

    Oh, yes there is a very nasty editorial in The Times:

    “I would like to start by hailing you all for your extraordinary record of service to this country, much of it, I note, spent in the Middle East. I am well aware that this involved enormous personal sacrifice with no fringe benefits at all, save the odd directorship in the defence industry, a consultancy or two with an oil company and a quantity of dates and olives delivered each Christmas. It must have been a struggle to retain your sanity in that extreme and scorching heat, a contest which some of you may have lost.”


  3. A. L.

    First, you missed something:

    We the undersigned former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East…

    Or, in other words, we’ve spent the greater part of our careers–in aggregate a millenium–letting the Middle East get into the mess it’s currently in.

    Second, in all fairness there’s a middle ground between a general uprising and a few terrorists, fanatics, etc. That would be a small home-grown insurgency movement which I suspect is what we’re actually seeing.

    My whole fisking

  4. Nice fisking, AL. Here’s another bit:

    “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.”

    So why are these “experts” trying to drag the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into it?

  5. I was born at Columbia-Presbyterian.

    I read things like this, which come up from time to time, and believe they are only preaching to the converted. There is nothing persuasive in thier words, and so I don’t worry as much about them. They merely maintain the status quo of their side without enhancing it – and I’m more concerned with the shifting sands of the middle ground.

  6. I noticed they mention how much experience they had.

    What I noticed also was the lack of a mention to the amount of success they have met.

    Historically no one has been able to solve these problems, but, historically we have never been in a better position to defeat those who embrace death as part of their religion.

    We have the tools, unfortunately, many lack the will. Good thing this does not include our leaders.

  7. What a pathetic bunch of petty bureacrats.

    A.L. is exactly right. President Bush as ‘bet the farm’ so to speak on remaking the dynamics in the middle east.

    It may not work, but at least he’s not putting up with the status quo, which is what all those sychopants wanted.

  8. A.L. is exactly right. President Bush as ‘bet the farm’ so to speak on remaking the dynamics in the middle east.

    And ten more US soldiers just ‘bought the farm’.

    There’s something painfully ironic in seeing soi-disant conservatives admiring Bush’s recklessness, just for the sake of its boldness. Pearl Harbor and Operation Barbarossa were also big bets on remaking Asia and Europe, respectively. They didn’t work well.

  9. Andrew, what is YOUR suggestion for fixing the problem if you don’t like what Bush did? All of the leftie-originated solutions were tried and didn’t work. It’s easy to take potshots when you don’t offer any alternatives. Sanctions didn’t work. Negotiation didn’t work. UN resolutions were ignored. Jawboning didn’t work. Are you contending we should have let Saddam just continue feeding people into wood chippers feet first, just so that the know-it-all diplomatic bureaucrats could have their egos salved by telling them they are important and can keep doing their work?

  10. At least 10 more American soldiers died yesterday in George W. Bush’s senseless war in Iraq.

    They died for a pipe dream, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as a fantastic notion or a vain hope. “Pipe dream” originally referred to the fantasies induced by smoking a pipe of opium. The folks who led us into this hideous madness in Iraq, against the wishes of most of the world, sure seem to have been smoking something.

    President Bush and his hyperhawk vice president, Dick Cheney, were busy yesterday lip-syncing their way through an appearance before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. If you want a hint of how much trouble the U.S. is in, consider that these two gentlemen are still clinging to the hope that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq.

    Reality was the first casualty of Iraq. This was a war that would be won on the cheap, we were told, with few American casualties. The costs of reconstruction would be more than covered by Iraqi oil revenues. The Iraqi people, giddy with their first taste of freedom, would toss petals in the path of their liberators. And democracy, successfully rooted in Iraq, would soon spread like the flowers of spring throughout the Middle East.

    Oh, they must have been passing the pipe around.

    My problem with the warrior fantasies emerging from the comfort zones of Washington and Crawford, Tex., is that they are being put to the test in the flaming reality of combat in Iraq, not by the fantasizers but by brave and patriotic men and women who deserve so much more from the country they are willing to defend with their lives.

    There is nothing new about this. It seemed to take forever for American leaders to realize that they were lost in a pipe dream in Vietnam. A key government spokesman during a crucial period of that conflict was Barry Zorthian, the public information officer for American forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. In a book published last year, “Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides,” Mr. Zorthian is quoted as saying:

    “We probably could have gotten the deal we ended up with in 1973 as early as 1969. And between 1969 and 1972 we almost doubled our losses. It’s easy to second-guess but I’ve never been convinced that those last 25,000 casualties were justified.”

    The sad truth about Iraq is that one year after President Bush gaudily proclaimed victory with his “Top Gun” moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, we don’t know what we’re doing in Iraq. We don’t know where we’re heading. We don’t know how many troops it will take to get us there. And we don’t know how to get out.

    Flower petals strewn in our path? Forget about that. The needle on the hate-America meter in Iraq is buried deep in the bright red danger zone. Even humanitarian aid groups have had to hustle American and other non-Iraqi workers out of the country because of fears that they would be kidnapped, shot or bombed.

    A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that only a third of Iraqis believe the U.S.-led occupation is doing more good than harm. The poll was taken in late March and early April, and it’s a safe bet that if the results have changed at all in the past few weeks, they’ve only gotten worse.

    There is nothing surprising about the poll’s findings. The U.S. primed Iraq with a “shock and awe” bombing campaign, then invaded, and is attempting to impose our concept of democracy at the point of a gun.

    Why would anybody think that would work?

    Since then we’ve destroyed countless homes and legitimate businesses and killed or maimed thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including many women and children. That was a lousy strategy for winning hearts and minds in Vietnam and it’s a lousy strategy now.

    Equally unsurprising is the erosion of support for the war among Americans. There’s no upside. Casualties are mounting daily and so are the financial costs, which have never been honestly acknowledged or budgeted.

    Mr. Bush has enmeshed us in a war that we can’t win and that we don’t know how to end. Each loss of a life in this tragic exercise is a reminder of lessons never learned from history. And the most fundamental of those lessons is that fantasy must always genuflect before reality.  

  11. Bob,

    I struggled through your post in the hope that you’d actually argue a position, but instead you chose to repeat the usual platitudes and non-sequiturs so familiar to the left. I don’t blame you for this, actually; I blame leftist academics, who long ago decided to teach students the skills of propaganda in place of critical thinking.

    Why, exactly, in your view, isn’t this war justified? Why, exactly, do you believe we will fail? Why, in your view, is this war more like Vietnam than, say, post-WW2 Japan? These things aren’t self-evident, so you must provide reasons for them. See how that works?

  12. Bab, I’ll join Mark in encouraging you to actually step and and argue your positions here. I’m always up for a serious discussion of these things.

    Your comment made it clear how you feel aboutthis, but wasn’t so helpful in making it clear why we should join you.


  13. Mark and A.L.:
    Good comments to Mr Herbert. I hope he returns and answers your questions.

    Lord Worfin
    (fka Phil Winsor)

  14. Another quick thought- It boils down to whether you think we are at war or not. If you believe we are NOT at war, I understand resistance to the Iraq battles (I don’t like to call it the “Iraq War”, because it shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum from the rest of the world).

    However, based on much information from a multitude of sources, we ARE at war with *IslamoLeninists, and the surest way to lose a war is to stick your head in the sand and hope the bad men will go away.

    *IslamoLeninists- someone made a comment on Roger L. Simon’s blog that militant Islam is closer to Communism (Lenin, et al) than Facism (Hitler et al.)

  15. LOL!

    Where are we going??

    “PLANET 10!!!!!”

    This movie to me is approaching the status that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has with its adherents. Its a shame they never made the next one.

    (?? BB against the World Crime League??) The brain cells that held that information have left the building.

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