Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 24th January 2008.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 2:50 pm, 24th January 2008

My Lords, there were times at the beginning of this debate when my memory took me back to when I was a nervous first-year undergraduate listening to the speeches of the grand Suez veterans who dominated the Cambridge University Union and being immensely impressed. I have been immensely impressed again by the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Tugendhat, and others. I strongly support a broader inquiry because the implications for British foreign policy of the Iraq invasion are very wide.

If one accepts the argument made a number of noble Lords on all sides that the impact of the Iraq invasion is comparable to that of Suez, as we look back five years after the Iraq war, we should recollect how much Harold Macmillan's Government adjusted the assumptions of British foreign policy in the five years after Suez. He sped up the process of decolonisation. He accepted that Britain had to re-establish a relationship with the United States, recognising that Britain was the junior partner, and reluctantly, and under pressure first from the Eisenhower Administration and then from the incoming Kennedy Administration, he recognised that we had to apply to join what was then the European Economic Community. They were major adjustments to British foreign policy—the last major adjustments, in effect, to British foreign policy. Five years after the Iraq invasion, what adjustments have we seen under two Prime Ministers? We have seen very little. That is the issue an inquiry now ought to address.

It would be as difficult for the Conservative Front Bench as for the Government: the Conservative Party, after all, has clung more closely to the world view of the American Republicans than has new Labour. I notice the deep investment by American think tanks in co-opting the Conservative Party as far as they can. We have all noticed the alienation of the Conservative Party from its European Conservative counterparts. The Conservatives wish to follow the United States rather than work with the French and Germans, which I suggest is now the way forward—and I support everything that my noble friend Lord Lee said about the desirability of working more closely with our French partners rather than always bumping along behind the United States.

There are clear lessons to learn from what we understand about the special relationship. In effect, we tested the special relationship to destruction under the impact of the move to war in Iraq. It was a revelation of just how junior a partner of the United States we had now become. In the 1950s and 1960s, we could still hope to have a high degree of intellectual influence in Washington. Many people in Washington still knew their counterparts in London: they had worked with them during the war. They respected their understanding of the world and we were spending a great deal of money—I am not sure entirely wisely—maintaining British defences east of Suez, so we were a global power alongside the United States. It was a real, special relationship.

Now, we are one among a number of partners. Israel, as we have discovered, has a much stronger special relationship with political power in Washington than the British. Mexico, Japan and other countries also have their special relationships, not forgetting Ireland. We now have to decide what sort of relationship we want to establish not only with the outgoing Bush Administration, but with the incoming successor. Of course, the Bush Administration has been exceptionally ideological and we may hope that its successor will take a very different view. But American foreign policy emerges out of a very self-referential debate, so long as there is no external counterbalance to force the avid arguers of Washington to think about the outside world. Domestic lobbies, domestic intelligentsia, the power of money, and the funding of right-wing think tanks all play a large part.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, remarked that we need actively to prepare to come to terms with whatever it is that the next Administration asks us for, and we need to prepare on a European basis rather than simply a British basis. When I was working at Chatham House many years ago, I remember that very odd period when the US Administration changed every four years from Ford to Carter to Reagan, and each time a team would come over and say, "This is the way we have to see the world. Forget about what the last Administration told you and forget about your own domestic constraints; this is where you have to follow us, because otherwise we will have tremendous problems with Congress". We shall have that again in the middle of 2009. We need to be working with our partners on the European continent to have a coherent response that relates to the Middle East, Russia and elsewhere.

One thing that strikes me most about this whole episode is how clear American policy was. For those of us who had followed the group who became the neoconservatives from the 1960s onwards, it was always clear what their world would be like. I remember in the late summer of 1967, when still a graduate student, I went with my then girlfriend to visit Eugene Rostow, then US Assistant Secretary of State, whom I had known when he was still a professor. He explained to us that the 1967 Middle East war was not a local war but part of the Soviet plan to outflank NATO through its soft underbelly. That was a very particular view of the way in which Israel fitted into the geopolitics of the Middle East.

I happened to know Paul Wolfowitz and others when I was still a student over there and many others of us have continued to argue with them. The aides to Senator Jackson, the Committee on the Present Danger and the Project for the New American Century all set out the policy very clearly, and Rumsfeld, Cheney and others were closely connected with that. I therefore ask myself, what were our embassy staff in Washington reporting to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office from 2001 to early 2003? Were they not telling us how much the American drive was being pushed by ideological preconceptions rather than by hard, thought-through intelligence?

I remember on behalf of the LSE being at a meeting of the association of American schools of international politics in November 2001 in which Condoleezza Rice said, "We have forgotten that we need to follow the internal politics of the Middle East more than we have done". That was a real revelation from someone who was then the National Security Council adviser. I remember going to a National Intelligence Council conference in early 2002 in which it appeared to many of us that the regional experts from the CIA and elsewhere were part of the opposition to their own Administration. If I may say so, as an outside expert and Opposition politician, I have also been struck by the fact that over the past five years I have had much more open contact with members of the US intelligence community than I have ever had with members of the British intelligence community—and I suspect that that is also something that an inquiry should look at. It would help a little if our intelligence agencies did have a rather more open dialogue with those outside.

When it came to the only occasion on which members of my party were offered an intelligence briefing in late 2002, we were told nothing that we had not already worked out for ourselves from public sources and were left wondering whether we had not been told what we needed to know or whether there was not anything more to know that we had not already discovered.

There are other lessons to be drawn. There is of course the lesson about Afghanistan, in which five years were lost after the expulsion of the Taliban before we really began to invest heavily in the reconstruction of that country, from which the British Army is now suffering. We would like to know how far British Ministers stressed to our American partners in 2002 that Afghanistan ought to be the priority and were overruled. There are a large number of lessons about the Middle East region as a whole.

We understand from what has been published that Prime Minister Blair thought that he had from President Bush the assurance that after the successful invasion of Iraq, the Arab/Israel conflict would be the first item on the American agenda. There again we have lost five years until President Bush has at last, and very late, come round to accepting that. We need to know a little more about policy towards Iran now that we also know that in 2003 the then Iranian Government attempted to strike a much more positive and open relationship with the United States, which was refused. I have just been reading Ali Ansari's very interesting new ISS paper on Iran in which he talks about the disastrous impact on Iranian reformists of the axis of evil speech.

There are lessons also about the impact of the Iraq invasion on our British Muslim population. When addressing very large meetings of British Muslims in Lancashire and Yorkshire in the months that followed that invasion, I certainly found that they were very disturbed by the implications of what they saw as an anti-Muslim invasion.

There are lessons about prerogative powers to which this House will return next Thursday. There are some pretty large questions about the opportunity costs. From estimates provided by the House of Commons Library on the additional costs of being involved in Iraq, I note that we have spent nearly £6 billion extra so far. Lastly, there are lessons about the capabilities of our Armed Forces, now so desperately overstretched by the long-term commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the broadest question is about the future of British foreign policy—how much we see ourselves as continuing to be engaged in humanitarian intervention using our military abroad where needed, with whom and within what framework. Part of the cost of Iraq has been that the British were unable to play a role in the Republic of Congo, in Darfur—beyond a very minimal one—and in the Lebanon. How large do we see our responsibilities in maintaining and improving order in the world, and with whom—always with the Americans, more often with the Europeans, and wherever possible within a NATO or UN framework? Those are the underlying questions which concern what British foreign policy is now really about.