Previous Section Index Home Page

Part of the scope of the peace conference should be to create a strong regional security solution for Iraq, with contributions from neighbouring states. Foremost among the issues would be a proper examination of the Kurdish question, which has been intractable for many years and is further complicated by the fact that the Kurdish nation is spilt into four different regions. The problem has been difficult for many years, but many believe that there will be no lasting solution in the middle east without a solution to the Kurdish question.

The Palestinian question is of course important too. The situation in Palestine is as bad today as it has ever been. There must be a concentration on the issue, and I hope that the Prime Minister will be part of that. However, politicians often pay lip service to the problem, but then retreat and leave it alone, so I hope that we can all sit down and discuss the issue.

Much has been said about Syria and the Golan heights, and about the situation in Lebanon. I could not have put the matter half as well as the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and I agree with everything that he said. However, I remind the House of the damage that was caused in that conflict last summer: 145 bridges were damaged, and apart from the human cost, the cost of reconstruction is more than $4 billion, with the Lebanese tourist industry being hit by a $2.5 billion slap in just one year. The damage was immense, so, as was asked earlier, how
22 Nov 2006 : Column 608
long can Britain continue to pour money into an area where such damage is inflicted time after time? It probably does not help the middle east peace process to express an opinion one way or the other, but it must be said that the Israeli contribution to that conflict was well out of proportion and continued for a long time before our Government had the guts to stand up and say, “Enough is enough,” although a bit late in the day.

As resolution 687 points out, however, the issue of weapons of mass destruction in the region urgently needs to be addressed. In that regard, it will be seen as unbalanced, and perhaps biased, for a demand to be made that Iran give up nuclear capability without demanding the same of Israel. Sadly, a host of international conferences in the middle east since the tabling of resolution 687 have achieved little lasting progress. If the Iraq study group is now thought to be ready to encourage some form of exit strategy, surely, as I have said, we need to do that urgently.

Many of us are concerned about the lack of debate on Trident. As was said earlier, it is almost as if we are sleepwalking towards a policy of renewal. There have been hints of a parliamentary debate and a vote, but we all hope that it will not be conducted in the same manner as the sham vote on going to war in Iraq. I therefore congratulate the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on issuing its alternative white paper yesterday, which I commend to all Members of the House, on whatever side of the argument they happen to be, as it is an informative document.

In this day and age, when all of us have constituents waiting for operations—I have one who has waited two and half years for a hip replacement—when our constituencies have inadequate numbers of NHS dentists, and when we are seeing our smaller hospitals disappear, it is absolute madness to contemplate paying £25 billion for commissioning Trident and a total of £76 billion on maintenance. We do not have money for the basics of life, and yet we are pursuing Trident in this way.

The strategic defence review said in 1998 that

It has also been stated that

One hopes that there will be a debate on Trident. Others in the Chamber will obviously hold different views on the matter; that is what democracy is all about. I call on the Government, however, to give us the opportunity of a reasonable and informed debate, and not to make the decision, then plonk it on the table and tell us to rubber-stamp it.

4.12 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Like most Members who have spoken in the debate so far, I believe that the consequences of the invasion of Iraq are showing themselves to be more disastrous every day, and are as bad as, if not worse than, those of us who voted against the Iraq war some
22 Nov 2006 : Column 609
three or more years ago feared. I am thinking not just of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq, but of the consequences for the wider region and for Britain’s standing in the world.

As the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) reminded us, it seems an age ago that the US Administration were telling us that the Iraq invasion would establish a beacon for democracy in the middle east, and that Syria and Iran would be next. Now we are reduced, it would appear, to asking those same regimes to help to stabilise the situation in Iraq. In so far as it is not already happening, the involvement of those countries in Iraq is probably inevitable. We are na├»ve, however, if we do not recognise that that is likely to lead to a strengthening of those countries’ positions, not just in Iraq but in the region. It will also lead—and I am disappointed that this should be the case—to a strengthening of those regimes internally, which is the last thing that we should be trying to bring about.

However, the weakening of our position is not restricted to Iraq and the neighbouring region. I share the condemnation across the House of the assassination yesterday of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon. Does not that very act of condemnation reveal, however, how little leverage we now have on the situation in Lebanon? We do not yet know, and may never know, who was responsible for the assassination. Certainly, however, if there was any involvement by the Syrian Government or their agents, and if we want to take action in respect of anything that we believe that they may have done in Lebanon on this or any previous occasion, we will not have an easy job trying to persuade Syria to go along with our approach to Iraq.

The situation in Darfur was mentioned earlier. Is there not a strong argument that at least one reason why the Government in Sudan are proving so resistant to pressure to change their behaviour is that they know how limited are the west’s options, because of the weakness of our position in Iraq as it has developed over recent years? In other parts of the world, too, it is possible to identify a relative isolation of the United Kingdom and a relative reduction in our strength and voice, because of our association with what I must call the failures in Iraq.

It is right to recognise that there have been failures. If we do not, we will not be able to escape from the position in which we have found ourselves in Iraq, and will not be able to restore our influence in the wider world. We need to restore that influence, because there are so many important challenges to our security. I accept that there is a challenge from terrorism, but there are also challenges from global inequalities, climate change and nuclear proliferation. We need policies that will re-establish our standing in the wider world.

First, of course, we need to develop the right policy on Iraq. The war was unpopular with the British public. The public were right then and they are right now, when the majority clearly want to see our troops out of Iraq sooner rather than later. Like others who have spoken today, I do not believe it is possible for us to withdraw our troops overnight, but we certainly cannot talk of an involvement lasting years and years
22 Nov 2006 : Column 610
into some indeterminate future. We should be talking about withdrawal in a matter of months rather than years.

However, much more than the withdrawal of British troops and disentanglement from Iraq will be required to re-establish our position internationally. I agree with Members on both sides of the House that we need to show our willingness to take a different line from the United States Administration when we know that that Administration are taking the wrong approach. The Secretary of State rightly pointed out that we have differed from the United States on such issues as climate change and world trade. We should do the same on other issues when it is clear that the policy of whatever United States Administration are in power is damaging our national interests and international security.

The key area in which we need to mark out that difference in policy is of course the middle east, and in particular the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The Prime Minister has recognised the need to seek a lasting settlement of that conflict, and has said that it will be one of the priorities of his remaining time in office. I welcome his commitment to working towards a just settlement—a long-standing commitment that is recognised in the House and more widely—but whoever leads British policy on Israel and Palestine, it is patently clear that there must be a much tougher line on Israel if we are to achieve any progress towards a real two-state solution. Of course there must be pressure on all who would undermine the possibility of a genuine settlement in Palestine and Israel, but it is Israel that is the power in the land, and it is Israel which, in its daily policies, is undermining the possibility of getting a viable two-state solution up and running at the end of the peace process.

To achieve that, we need more than the right policies from the United Kingdom; we need the right policies from the other institutions where the United Kingdom has a role. Above all, we need a Europe-wide policy to join the initiatives that we take. That underlines why we need a common European foreign and security policy which is coherent and effective, and why we need the institutions and policies that will allow it to be pursued vigorously and made effective. I do not say that because I believe that we can establish some European superpower to challenge the United States of America. That is not a real prospect. We must have good relations with the United States as well as with our European partners, but we need a stronger and more coherent European voice if we are to maximise the effects of our own voice in international issues.

We can also do much more beyond Europe and the United States. We need to build up a wider international coalition to secure international consensus on the key challenges of our times, such as climate change and international inequality. I welcome what the Government have already done following their initiatives at the Gleneagles summit. There will be more opportunities to build international consensus on such issues as a result of the publication of the Stern report and the policies for global action on climate change that it highlights.

I hope that the Government will continue to do what they can to encourage consensus not only among Governments but beyond them, and I am sure that they
22 Nov 2006 : Column 611
will. I welcome the fact that the Government have chosen to have direct contact about climate change with certain states in the United States of America. The Government also co-operated with the Make Poverty History campaigns of last year, which are an example of worldwide public pressure being brought to bear on international challenges, and I hope that, similarly, they will help to develop an international coalition of citizens—not just of Governments—for international action on climate change.

If we put those issues at the centre of our foreign policy, that could enable us to re-establish the moral leadership that I am sorry to say we have lost as a result of our policies in the middle east. But we will not be able to pursue those issues effectively if we do not change the policies in the middle east that have led to the loss of that moral authority.

4.21 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Oh, unhappy debate—unhappy for the Government, as there has not been a single contribution to it that reflects the astonishing complacency that appears to surround those who sit on the Government Front Bench. The Gracious Speech gave us all the usual platitudes about commitment to peace in the middle east, working with the United Nations and our European Union partners to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the strengthening of NATO, but Her Majesty’s Government are not living in the real world.

At present, there is no middle east peace process. The international institutions, which we are told have been the linchpins of United Kingdom foreign and defence policy, have been discredited by events both before and after the invasion of Iraq. As we have heard, last week on a programme broadcast by the al-Jazeera television station the Prime Minister appeared to accept—and, of course, subsequently denied—that the Iraq war was

The truth is that he does not know what to say.

As shadow Defence Secretary from shortly after the fateful day of 11 September 2001, I supported the Prime Minister’s policy on Iraq. I voted for the war and sincerely believed in that decision at the time. I thought that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein, and I still believe that. I also believe that our long-term relationship with the United States is perhaps our most important foreign policy interest, and that doubt about that decision would have to weigh in its favour. But today we have to be realistic about where we find ourselves. The Prime Minister appeared to assent to the view that it is

To say that the only problem that we faced was a lack of planning is the mother of all understatements. For those in power, post-war planning was simply not the priority. The so-called neoconservatives talked about the democratisation of Iraq as though it was a natural corollary of the invasion, without having any idea of how it would be achieved. Opponents of the war reflected the culture of our broken foreign policy establishments on both sides of the Atlantic, obsessing about international legality and the UN long after
22 Nov 2006 : Column 612
President Bush and our own Prime Minister had made up their minds to go to war.

Nobody applied themselves sufficiently to what would happen as a result of the invasion. That reflects a much deeper political malaise in the west as a whole. Big moral ideas about democratisation on the one hand, and placing faith in outdated cold war institutions such as the EU, NATO and the UN on the other, were both denying reality. If nobody in Europe can find even a few helicopters to help in Afghanistan, we begin to question the very existence of NATO as it currently is, let alone the purpose of an EU foreign and defence policy. Unless we all start to accept the world as it is, we will continue to miss the real questions that we must face in the short term or the long term.

Let us start by addressing the consequences of Iraq. A relatively stable, albeit hostile, conglomerate state has been smashed. Far from that having created circumstances that cow potential aggressors such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, they are gloating with delight at the current situation. The war has proved to be a classic pyrrhic victory: tactical victory has become strategic defeat. Far from dividing al-Qaeda and other extremist groups from mainstream Muslim opinion, the terrorists have become the heroes on the Muslim street, and it is the moderates who are isolated. There can be no wiping the slate clean of what we have done. I do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). We must continue to support the United States in attempts to bring the occupation in Iraq to some kind of stable conclusion. I pay tribute to our servicemen and women, who are so bravely and gallantly sustaining that effort.

However, we cannot base future policy on any kind of continuum with previous discredited thinking. We must start again. In the short term, neither Iraq nor the world can wait two years for a new US President and a credible US foreign policy. That is why the Baker-Hamilton commission, backed by George Bush senior and the newly elected Democrat Congress, is in the process of seizing the reins of US foreign and defence policy from the White House. It is testament to the clueless state of UK policy that the British Prime Minister’s role is reduced to giving a few minutes’ evidence down a video link. In the short term, policy in Iraq will be decided in Washington, and that is that.

In the long term, British foreign policy must return to first principles, based on a proper analysis of the wider facts that we face. Europe’s population is ageing and her economy is in sharp relative decline. The huge shift of economic power from west to east will lead to a similar shift in political and military power. The rise of Asia is bringing 2 billion people into the global economy, with incalculable consequences. We must also consider the crisis in the Doha trade talks, global warming, energy security and Africa. We need to be realistic, moreover, about the problem of Muslim extremism, which lies far deeper in history than the establishment of Israel 60 years ago. The Muslim world has been perplexed by its political decline in relation to the Christian world since the failure of the second siege of Vienna in 1683. We must face the fact that only Muslims themselves can win the argument against the extremists in their midst.

22 Nov 2006 : Column 613

The destructive power of new technology is growing exponentially, and terrorists can get it ever more easily and cheaply. Faced with these facts, we need to go back to the most fundamental questions. What does Britain stand for in the world? What are our essential national interests, and by what means can we best promote them? The whole policy of the western powers must develop a new idiom, shorn of the messianic or naive pretensions of new right or old left. Practical policy must be based on good old-fashioned enlightened self-interest.

Some in Washington are calling for what is termed ethical realism: ethical, because we must hold to our values; but realistic, because good intentions are not enough. I have heard enough rhetoric about healing the scars of Africa to make me sick. Ethical realism is akin to liberal conservatism, as espoused by the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), in his address to the Anglo-American project in a landmark speech in September. As he said, we need to hear more about diplomacy and trade, and less about the pre-emptive use of military power; more about building peaceful alliances, and less about dividing the world between the good guys and the bad guys.

Long term, we need more patience with countries that do not share our views, but without losing confidence in our values. We should respect countries’ cultures, religious sensitivities and stable systems of government, even if they would not be acceptable in our own country. Talking with the Iranian or Syrian Governments is neither a means to endorsing their policies nor a solution in itself, as some now seem to be saying. At the moment, they hold all the cards.

The real battle for hearts and minds may take generations, but conflict is about will-power, not physical force. At the moment, this United Kingdom—the fourth largest economy in the world and the west’s second most pre-eminent diplomatic and military power—does not have the first idea of a plan. We need one now. I echo those who have made it plain that we should have a proper, structured debate not just on Iraq, but on the whole middle east region and how the Government are going to take forward their policy.

4.29 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is always interesting to follow one of my many constituents, who can be found on both sides of the House. I shall not talk about Iraq, other than to say that I share many of the views that have been expressed on both sides. We do need an early withdrawal. It will not be acceptable to my constituents, most of whom were opposed to the war, for our soldiers to continue to be killed. We need a way out, soon.

Next Section Index Home Page