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No easy answers to Middle East crises

Gale’s View
by your MP Sir Roger Gale

Events in the Middle East are moving very fast and there is always a danger that a column such as this, even when written as late as possible before publication, may be overtaken by events. At the time of writing, however, I detect no appetite at all among those I represent, for the UK to once again listen to Mr Blair and for western powers to resort to military power or to put ‘boots on the ground’ in Iraq. I do not find that remotely surprising. Very shortly before the vote on the second Iraq war I recall being summoned, along with some 15 other Conservative MPs who also had grave doubts about our position, to meet with the then Leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith, and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram, and urged to support Blair’s government in the division lobby and support the war. The Leader of the Opposition had been given, we were told, a “cast iron assurance on Privy Council terms”, by Prime Minister Blair, that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction but that those weapons represented a direct threat to the United Kingdom, possibly being delivered at terrifyingly short notice. We still await the publication of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war but many believed at the time that Blair had indicated to President Bush, during a meeting at Camp David in the United States, long before any vote in the House of Commons, that he could and would deliver UK support for a US-led invasion of Iraq designed to bring about the downfall of Saddam Hussein and regime change. By the time the House had its say UK troops were effectively already deployed on the starting line and with the added confirmation of a direct threat to our national security Blair won his vote with cross- party support and a handsome majority.

It is that same Mr Blair, the ‘Middle East Peace Envoy’, who now appears to be once again urging The West to take military action against Islamist extremists engaged in terror. Outside the Pentagon he is, I suspect, unlikely to find many allies and his assertion that the West is not in any way responsible for some of the turmoil of the Middle East sounds more like an exercise in self-justification ahead of the publication of the Chilcot report than any meaningful analysis of the situation.

Dangerous

The uprising on the part of the ISIS group of militant sectarian extremists is hugely dangerous, of course, and really could strike at the heart of global security, but the idea that a few bombing raids or some special forces action taken by ‘The West’ is likely to do anything other than inflame an already hostile situation still further is risible.
Post Iraq and the ‘Arab Spring’ I have spent some time in Egypt and in Tunisia, the latter as an international election observer. I also, with some trepidation, supported the Joint Forces action in Libya and the removal from office of Colonel Gaddafi. In each of these circumstances a case can be made for saying that the downfall of military dictators has led not to liberation but to chaos, anarchy and the imposition of even harsher and less democratic regimes than those that they have replaced. Only in Tunisia are the embers of the fire of democracy really still burning.

It is easy to say “the transition from authoritarian regimes to democracy takes time” without giving adequate consideration to what happens in the vacuum. So just before we listen, once again, to the siren voices calling for “action” I hope that we may pause and learn the lessons of recent history.
It is not enough to “do something”. We have to do the right thing.

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