April 27, 2004

A Whitehall Rebellion!

Has Britain's foreign policy establishment turned on Tony Blair (via a signed letter delivered to the PM)?

That's how the FT is reporting the story.

Here is the text of the letter.

I excerpt it here (with my emphasis) for reader convenience:

"Dear Prime Minister: 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. Following the press conference in Washington at which you and President Bush restated these policies, we feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in Parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment.

The decision by the US, 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. The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well-established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well-understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved. But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the "road-map" merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

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. 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.

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. 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. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America. We are glad to note that you and the President have welcomed the proposals outlined by Lakhdar Brahimi. We must be ready to provide what support he requests, and to give authority to the United Nations to work with the Iraqis themselves, including those who are now actively resisting the occupation, to clear up the mess.

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 Fallujah, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total between ten and fifteen thousand (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Fallujah alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children. Phrases such as "We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice", apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.

We share your view that the British Government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."

Yours faithfully, Sir Brian Barder, former high commissioner, Australia; Paul Bergne, former diplomat; Sir John Birch, former ambassador, Hungary; Sir David Blatherwick, former ambassador, Ireland; Graham Hugh Boyce, former ambassador, Egypt; Sir Julian Bullard, former ambassador, Bonn; Juliet Campbell, former ambassador, Luxemburg; Sir Bryan Cartledge, former ambassador, Soviet Union; Terence Clark, former ambassador, Iraq; David Hugh Colvin, former ambassador, Belgium; Francis Cornish, former ambassador, Israel; Sir James Craig, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia; Sir Brian Crowe: former director-general, external and defence affairs, Council of the European Union; Basil Eastwood, former ambassador, Syria; Sir Stephen Egerton, diplomatic service, Kuwait; William Fullerton, former ambassador, Morocco; Dick Fyjis-Walker, ex-chairman, Commonwealth Institute; Marrack Goulding, former head of United Nations Peacekeeping; John Graham, former Nato ambassador, Iraq; Andrew Green, former ambassador, Syria; Victor Henderson, former ambassador, Yemen; Peter Hinchcliffe, former ambassador, Jordan; Brian Hitch, former High Commissioner, Malta; Sir Archie Lamb, former ambassador, Norway; Sir David Logan, former ambassador, Turkey; Christopher Long, former ambassador, Switzerland; Ivor Lucas, former assistant secretary-general, Arab-British Chamber of Commerce; Ian McCluney, former ambassador, Somalia; Maureen MacGlashan, foreign service in Israel; Philip McLean, former ambassador, Cuba; Sir Christopher MacRae, former ambassador, Chad; Oliver Miles, diplomatic service in Middle East; Martin Morland, former ambassador, Burma; Sir Keith Morris, former ambassador, Colombia; Sir Richard Muir, former ambassador, Kuwait; Sir Alan Munro, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia; Stephen Nash, ambassador, Latvia; Robin O'Neill, former ambassador, Austria; Andrew Palmer, former ambassador, Vatican; Bill Quantrill, former ambassador, Cameroon; David Ratford, former ambassador, Norway; Tom Richardson, former UK deputy ambassador, UN; Andrew Stuart, former ambassador, Finland; Michael Weir, former ambassador, Cairo; Alan White, former ambassador, Chile; Hugh Tunnell, former ambassador, Bahrain; Charles Treadwell, former ambassador, UAE; Sir Crispin Tickell, former UN Ambassador; Derek Tonkin, former ambassador, Thailand; David Tatham, former governor, Falkland Islands; Harold "Hooky" Walker, former ambassador, Iraq; Jeremy Varcoe, former ambassador, Somalia.

Leave aside that one of the signatories goes by the moniker "Hooky"--conjuring up the images (and sounds) of Jerry Garcia's voice emiting the dulcet tunes of Scarlet Begonias to happy revelers arrayed about Haight-Ashbury.

This is serious stuff--as other Blair critics are pointing out.

What appears to have raised the collective ire (and served as the main catalyst for writing the letter) of the former senior officials was Blair's acquiescence to the Bush-Sharon understandings.

On the whole, as my previous analysis might indicate, I don't disagree with the British diplomats analysis here.

I would caution them, however, to not make too much of Clintonian peace processing diplomacy.

The letter-writers put it thusly: "[Clinton] had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well-understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved."

Would that it were so easy!

To be sure, Clinton did grapple with Middle East peacemaking efforts.

But he grappled in vain.

There is a lot of blame to go around for that--but much of it must be placed on the Clinton team.

Note the Camp David II negotiations were classically Clintonian--18 hour marathon negotiating sessions, doubtless Domino's pizza boxes liberally strewn about, yardsticks getting pulled out to measure side-alleys in Hebron.

While, so often, the devil is indeed in the details--the lack of effective backstopping by the Clinton team (particularly with regard to potential Jerusalem concessions) with Crown Prince Abdullah and Hosni Mubarak, for instance, limited Arafat's room to maneuver.

Put differently, Arafat realized that any concessions he made on Jerusalem impacted not only his Palestinian constituency, not only the Arab region, but the entire Islamic world.

So it would have helped if the Clinton team had been more organized in marshalling support in Riyadh and Cairo, to name a couple key capitals, to help push Arafat along.

Old news and sour grapes?

Maybe, but it bears mentioning that all was not necessarily rosy with the Middle East peace process back when the Nasdaq was at 5000.

That said, things are pretty unequivocally dismal now.

Bush did go too far on concessions with Sharon.

And it is (very, very) hard to reconcile the roadmap with the Bush-Sharon understandings (though it's not impossible, in my view, a nuance the British diplomats ignore--particularly if robust pressure on final status issues is applied on the Israelis going forward).

Also worth noting--I'm not so sure this part of the letter is strictly accurate: "(h)owever much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America."

Really? I'm not so sure.

Yes, democracy imposed under the barrel of a gun with scores (if not hundreds) killed in Fallujah is a naive hope indeed. But Fallujah isn't all of Iraq (nor are military targets in and around Najaf all of Iraq either).

And it's not strictly and exclusively the coalition that is striving to create a democracy in Iraq.

The interim authority is involved. Other Iraqi actors are too.

So, of course, is the U.N.

Put differently, the gig isn't up just yet. Iraq hasn't been relegated to a failed state, a Taliban-like state, a state consumed by civil war, or a state disintegrating into ethnically and/or religiously homogenous para-states.

Patience, fortitude, and a smidgen of optimism friends!

Things are never quite as bad (or good) as they may appear...

All this said, Blair will need to defend himself forthrightly shortly. Developing, as they say...

Note: Don't miss the use of the word "poisoned" in the letter above. Appears Brahimi's descriptive language is spreading beyond French radio....

Posted by Gregory at April 27, 2004 07:59 PM
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