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My third observation concerns Iraq and Afghanistan. The outlook for Iraq is bleak; I have not heard any serious commentator suggest anything else. It is important to recognise that, in both campaigns, the media consistently exaggerate the difficulties and minimise the successes, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I cannot recently recall reading anything positive about either campaign, and it is ridiculous to suggest that successes do not occur regularly. It is not a failing on the part of Ministers and officials. Good news stories are available; however, the media choose not to publish them. That is extremely frustrating for those officers responsible. But intriguingly in respect of Afghanistan, when many senior officers privately brief me, they are confident of the outcome. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, gave us a glimmer of hope.

Many noble Lords have referred to the general reluctance of NATO nations to contribute troops to operations in Afghanistan. I agree with their sentiments; it is extremely disappointing and a major challenge for NATO. However, the telling point from one senior officer was that they would jump on the bandwagon later when the operation came right, or words to that effect. I hope to see that situation obtain in due course.

There has been much talk about the legitimate economy for Afghanistan—my noble friend Lord Eccles talked about the need to get Afghanistan into the global economy—but I have yet to hear what Afghan farmers are expected to produce as an alternative to narcotics in the short term. In the longer term the education programme, especially education for women, as outlined by the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, must be the right approach. But what can be legitimately exported from Afghanistan to sustain that country, and how?

Transport from Afghanistan to the market, especially in the developed world, is expensive, tortuous and insecure. Even NATO containers going to our operations in Afghanistan are mysteriously raided. Can anything be done to minimise or reduce transport costs for the Afghan economy? If the Minister cannot answer that now, perhaps he could write to me later. At present, the transport system and

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economy favour high-value, low-volume, low-inherent-skill products. Opium, say at £100 a kilo, is ideal. I wonder what the effect would be of putting in place a subsidised, reliable and secure transport system to the European markets, perhaps a very regular Antonov flight at very low cost. In the long term, what is being considered for reliable road and rail links to a sea port from Afghanistan? I know that it is a long way and that it would have to go through other countries, but it would go some way to meet the concerns outlined by my noble friend Lord Eccles about developing the Afghan economy. If nothing is done about transport links for goods, it is hard to see how the Afghan per capita income can be increased.

The invasion of Iraq has encouraged the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The media, while correctly identifying problems, would be much more responsible if they covered some military and civilian successes in theatre. However, my greatest concern is the permanent damage to our Armed Forces due to operating far outside the defence planning assumptions.

7.29 pm

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I would like to concentrate on the Middle East aspect, rather than on the Afghan aspect, of this debate. Two days ago, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, described the Iraqi situation not as being on the verge of civil war, which is the current euphemism, but “much worse” than civil war, with ordinary life being more dangerous than it had been under Saddam Hussein. The Secretary-General of the United Nations and not the media said that.

It is an appalling sign that such obvious home truths can only be uttered by a public official about to leave office. The Iraqi economy is in ruins. Oil production, at 2.1 billion barrels per day, has not yet recovered its Saddam level after three years. According to calculations in the 21 October issue of the Lancet, an estimated 655,000 people have lost their lives since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, 600,000 of those through violence. In the Shia areas of southern Iraq, fundamentalist Islam has seized control and imposed the dictatorship of Sharia law—a far cry from the neo-con project of turning Iraq into a western-style democracy.

Advance leaks from the Iraq Study Group—the so-called Baker panel set up by President Bush after mid-term elections—suggest that it will recommend a phased withdrawal of US forces, and a transfer of security functions to the Iraqi Government. Short of doubling or trebling the size of American forces, that is the minimum concession to reality; but what chance is there of the Iraqi Government regaining control with the coalition having destroyed the Iraqi army and civil service?

Somewhat more promising is the grudging recognition that in order to achieve peace in Iraq, and more generally in the Middle East, we will have to engage the other regional powers, especially Iran and Syria. A report co-authored in 2004 by Robert Gates, the new American Secretary of Defense, advocated

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“selectively engaging” with Iran in order to promote “regional stability”. I hope that he will carry that determination with him into his new office.

The Prime Minister, in his Mansion House speech of 13 November, acknowledged that a settlement in Iraq required “partnership” with Iran and Syria as well as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Prime Minister of Israel has also been talking in a similar vein. On the other side of the divide, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, exploiting Iran's new position as a regional power broker, held a summit with the presidents of Syria and Iraq in Teheran on 27 November to discuss ways to bring peace to Iraq. If a way could be found to link up these western, Israeli and Syrian-Iran initiatives, the door would be prized open for that “whole Middle East strategy”, of which the Prime Minister has talked.

Let us be clear though about what this agonising reappraisal means. It means accepting that the American-British-Israeli policy of reshaping the Middle East by military force has failed. The Americans have lacked the strength and will to subdue Iraq, much less create a democracy there; the Israelis have failed to destroy Hezbollah in Lebanon, or indeed to quell the Palestinian insurgency; and America has failed to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment programme. These policy reversals have knocked on the head the myth of American omnipotence. The emperor has been shown to have no clothes, or at least no clothes cut to carry out the policies he has embarked on. The United States is still the most important act in the Middle East, but it is not all-powerful. The Islamic revival has created a balance of power in the region for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. That means that any settlement of the interlocking problems of the Middle East will have to be a negotiated one.

I am not sure that Bush and Blair yet realise this. The reality of failure has dissolved part of the fog that envelopes their deceptive and self-deceiving utterances, but the two leaders still apparently believe that the game is theirs provided only that Iran and Syria, and the forces they control, can be co-opted as partners in their design. The clearest indication of this continuing delusion is their insistence on attaching preconditions to any talks with the other side: Iran must give up its nuclear ambitions; Syria and Iran must renounce support for violence; and the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority must renounce terrorism as well as recognising Israel’s “right to exist”. These conditions for talks are completely unrealistic.

The reality is that the renunciations which the West rightly seeks can come about only as part of the bargain eventually struck, not as preconditions for talks. I doubt if Bush, Blair and Prime Minister Olmert have yet accepted the need for a genuinely negotiated agreement of outstanding Middle Eastern problems; but that is the price they will have to pay for the failure of their policies. The fact that a balance of power has come into being in the Middle East is precisely what makes possible a genuine negotiation, leading to multilateral ownership of a regional peace settlement.

An opportunity now exists to strike what I have called a “grand bargain”, to pacify the most dangerous and volatile area of the world—a bargain

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to which all the great powers and the state and the non-state power holders in or adjoining the Middle East might be induced to underwrite. That includes Hezbollah. Here I differ a little from what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said on Lebanon. Of course the long agony of Lebanon is a tragedy, but it is basically an outcome—and it has been going on since the late 1960s—of events outside Lebanon, and particularly of the Israel-Palestinian dispute. Lebanon has been a victim, not the centre of the storm.

To give the Prime Minister credit, he glimpses the opportunity for a “grand design”, but he is too much hostage to his own past mistakes and to the American president to act resolutely on it. I would add that he has missed the chance to put the weight of Europe behind British diplomacy. He has sacrificed everything to the “special relationship” with the United States, from which Britain has got nothing but grief in the recent period—as Kendall Myers, a senior US State Department official was tactless enough to point out only the other day.

The outlines of a “grand bargain” are not difficult to discern, difficult though they will be to achieve. Other noble Lords have touched on various elements. They include an agreed formula for sharing power and oil revenues between the three main provinces in a federalised Iraq; a fully independent Palestinian state, roughly within the 1967 borders, with international guarantees of Israel’s security, and, I would add, an internationally patrolled demilitarised zone along Israel's borders; a phased withdrawal of western forces from the Middle East in return for a guarantee against the use of oil for political purposes; and a nuclear-free zone—something alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell—without which Iran will never give up its nuclear ambitions. One has just to bite the bullet that Israel in return will give up its bomb. Finally, a reactivation of the suspended customs union between Israel and Palestine, agreed to in the Oslo accords, with a gradual extension to Jordan and Lebanon creating a genuine free-trade area that is capable of reviving the economies of that region, with a “Marshall Aid” programme to get it started, as happened in Europe in 1948.

What is the alternative? I do not believe that a “one step at a time” approach will work. Every small confidence-building step in one area will be sabotaged by a renewed outbreak of violence somewhere else. That has been happening. The time has passed when the United States or Israel could pick off their opponents one by one. The Islamic world is more cohesive and angrier than it was nearly 30 years ago when Egypt settled with Israel. We must never forget that that settlement cost Anwar Sadat his life.

We should never forget that the Muslim population of western and central Europe now approaches 10 per cent of the total population. What prospect is there for harmonious race relations in Europe with the Middle East in flames? The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, rightly touched on the Turkish aspect of that estrangement in his thought-provoking speech.

If we miss the chance to do something big and constructive now, we may not get another for a long time. The balance of power in the Middle East is

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shifting against the West and will shift further still. If that process continues without a comprehensive settlement, vengeance, I fear, will not limp.

7.41 pm

Lord Luce: My Lords, this debate has, naturally and rightly, been absorbed by today’s many crises that we face in the Middle East. We have more or less agreed that we are possibly on the verge of a turning point—another turning point, because during the past 50 years we have faced numerous ones.

In the past few years, I have not been able to take a day-to-day interest in the Middle East because I have been preoccupied with other jobs. However, from the age of 10, I was out in the Middle East a great deal, for my father had a lifetime there and, at the end of his days, he was appointed as the special envoy of the Foreign Secretary to negotiate our withdrawal from the Middle East during 1970-71. Later, I was privileged enough to serve as a Minister of State in the 1980s with responsibilities for the Middle East.

I hope that the House will bear with me if I focus on just two things. First, I should like to take a step back and reflect for a moment on what considerations should govern our approach to the Middle East. Secondly, I should like to focus briefly on one aspect where I think that Britain can be constructive, especially in the Gulf: that is, on political reform.

It is worth reminding ourselves that it is less than a hundred years since the foundation of the modern Middle East was laid in the immediate post-First World War days leading up to 1922—largely imposed by Britain and France, for good or for ill—the Arab world having just emerged from 500 years of occupation in the Ottoman Empire, with all the inevitable wounds that that created. In Europe, it has taken us centuries to develop our nation states and current systems of government.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that the Arab world had a great empire which started 13 centuries ago and flourished from the borders of China right across the Mediterranean, with quite a legacy in various parts of the world, such as Spain. More recently, we, too, have had our empire and have left good things and not such good things. One of the most interesting observations about empires is that in the period after they are over, countries suffer from a lack of self-confidence and some decline. Those symptoms exist in the Arab world and have done so for some time. There are certainly symptoms of lack of self-confidence in Britain today: the decline in faith; the decline in values. So any approach that we make to the Middle East should be with the utmost humility.

It is against that background that we have today explored the explosive factors that exist in the Middle East: the failure to resolve the Palestine-Israel issue; the desperation in Iraq; the uncertainty in Lebanon; and the exasperation at the failure of the United Nations to implement many of the important Security Council resolutions, ranging from the resolutions that demanded that Israel end illegal settlements in occupied territories to the need to disarm Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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As a result of all that, many people live today in what one can only describe as a Dante's Inferno. The graphic descriptions that we have heard today in outstanding speeches have depicted that. As we all know, desperate people do desperate things. In that situation of desperation, the hardline states, such as Iran and Syria, are encouraged still further.

I agree with all the speakers today who, in looking at the way forward, have said that it can come only from a twin approach: the will on the part of the countries of the Middle East to find a resolution; and with help, such as we can give it, from the West—Europe and the United States. It is of mutual interest to try to help them create stability. As we all agree, that needs a persistent international effort to help strengthen the moderates in that area and isolate the extremists. Whether we like it or not, it needs the help of the United States. We need to be reminded of Churchill's remark that,

I just hope that they have now exhausted every other alternative.

I ought now to be nice about the United States. Condoleezza Rice has not made the mistake that John Foster Dulles once made when he was Secretary of State. He landed in the Middle East and said:

But we also need Europe, with her long historic connections with that area. Above all, I agree with all those, including my noble friend Lord Hannay, who say that there must be a regional solution. Arab neighbours must play an active part in all this. It is worth reminding ourselves that in 1961, a Kuwait crisis existed when General Kassem threatened to invade Kuwait. The British moved in, but very quickly afterwards an Arab peacekeeping force took our place. Although there are no direct analogies, it is worth reminding ourselves of that lesson. We must go on working vigorously for a just solution and strengthen the dialogue between the West and the Arab world, based on mutual respect for each other's history, culture and religion.

I shall say just a word about political reform, especially in the Gulf, because that is where we can be most constructive. In the speech, which has already been referred to, made by Condoleezza Rice in Cairo in the summer, she said:

To my mind, that rather implies that democracy is unstable. Surely, the right political reform can in fact strengthen stability and they do not contradict each other.

At this point, I declare an interest. I am patron of the Sir William Luce Memorial Fund, which is based in Durham University and is working with the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies there and Chatham House, with the support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of the Gulf states, on a project jointly to study political reform in the Gulf.

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There are certain considerations that we ought to take into account. That reform must be home-grown. It must stem from the roots of the Gulf states, the Arab states, themselves.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, whereas in our empire we imposed the only system that we knew, understood and respected—our own system of parliamentary democracy—we did not do so in the Gulf because our responsibilities were for the protection of the external affairs of the Gulf and their defence, not their internal affairs. Those Gulf states can evolve their own system quite naturally, and we need to accept that they have a different culture, a different history, different traditions, and a different religion from ours. In the past, their tribes, clans and families have been the dominating factor, and their Majlis al-Shura system has given the people of those countries access to their rulers. But circumstances are changing. Elites—middle classes—are emerging in these areas. Modern travel and communication strengthen them, and there is also a very large foreign population in the Gulf states to help influence them. We can therefore welcome some of the changes: municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, Parliaments in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, the development of an al-Shura assembly in the Oman, recent elections in the Yemen, and elections shortly to be held in the UAE.

In the elections in Palestine, it was encouraging to see that 63 per cent of the electorate wanted to vote. In Iraq, a high proportion of people wanted to vote, but they must have the right circumstances in which to allow democracy of one kind or another to flourish. We should therefore share our experiences with these countries. We should not impose ourselves on them or lecture them on what system they should have. Nor should we undermine the rulers of those countries in that process. Against the background of a decline in trust in politics and in Parliament here, and our doubts about a second Chamber and what its future should be, I rather doubt that we are in a good position to lecture them.

The other aspect that has been touched on today is that we must meet the challenge that extremists—Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—will get elected, and have been elected, to these assemblies. I am reminded of a conversation that is alleged to have taken place between Nehru and Nasser, when Nasser boasted to Nehru, “I put my extremists in prison. What do you do with yours?”. Nehru is alleged to have replied, “Actually, I put mine in Parliament”. There is something to be said for arguing by these means rather than fighting.

Each state needs to develop its own system of accountability to suit its own circumstances. Above all, we need to encourage evolution rather than revolution. However long and drawn out the crisis of the Middle East has been, and is, we must persevere with our moderate friends to find a way forward that will bring peace as opposed to war in the Middle East.

7.52 pm

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in the debate, particularly just two speeches away from my noble friend Lord Skidelsky,

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who was one of the few to talk consistent sense in the weeks before the opening hostilities in Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, as many of us in the Chamber will remember, constantly urged Her Majesty’s Government and the United States Government to squeeze the regime of Saddam Hussein by imposing heavier and heavier sanctions, not by attacking him. Those speeches recall, to those who know anything of recent history, the wise letters which President Eisenhower wrote to Sir Anthony Eden at the time of Suez. They were published as an appendix to volume II of Eisenhower’s memoirs, Waging Peace. Perhaps it will turn out that President Chirac was writing similar letters to Prime Minister Blair in 2003.

Many of us share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, to avoid war, but, for all sorts of reasons—some na├»ve, some complicated—many of us foolishly believed Her Majesty’s Government when they assured us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We also accepted some of the fascinating stories that leaked out that there had been secret dealings between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Of course we did not expect to be told the details at the time; we merely accepted Her Majesty’s Government’s word.

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