Somebody help me. I’ve lost the place. One minute Tony Blair is asking Syria and Iran to help broker a peace deal in Iraq; the next, he’s attacking them for supporting the very Iraqi insurgents who are killing British soldiers there.
The Prime Minister really has to make up his mind. Are we still at war with the “arc of extremism” as he used to describe Syria and Iran - or are they now among the good guys?
Of course, it’s good to talk. But what next? Do we invite al Qaeda and the Taleban to join the “push for peace” in Afghanistan?
Number Ten claims credit for encouraging the US Iraq Study Group (aka the Iraq Scarper Group) to look to Iraq’s neighbours to help stabilise the country and allow foreign forces to leave. The PM was reportedly eager to talk up his plan for “regionalising” the Iraq problem during his video-call to the ISG yesterday.
But in his Guildhall speech the previous evening Tony Blair had condemned Iran and Syria as countries where “the roots of global terrorism are to be found”. Iran has been aiding the Iraqi Shia militias, one of which seized a hundred people at the Baghdad research institute yesterday. Iran almost certainly provided the explosives that destroyed the British patrol boat, and four servicemen, in the Shatt al-Arab on Sunday. Iran was also heavily involved in arming and training the Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon who recently rained rockets on Israel.
Syria, a nasty dictatorship which tortures its citizens, has also been up to its neck in “state-sponsored terrorism”. It was forced to retreat from Lebanon after being fingered for the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri in 2005. Syria has been providing a safe haven for insurgents from neighbouring Iraq, and helping arm Islamist groups across the Middle East.
So, how can America and Britain possibly contemplate inviting Iran and Syria to the table in deciding the future of Iraq? It would be like America inviting Germany and Italy - the original “axis” powers - to help decide the future of Europe in 1940.
And then of course, there is Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The last time I looked, President Bush was refusing to rule out military action against President Ahmedinijad if he didn’t stop his uranium enrichment programme. Which he didn’t. This means America is threatening to go to war with one of the Iraq peacemakers. It’s a funny old world.
Yet, next month, the Iraq Study Group is expected to call for a regional conference which give Iran and Syria immense influence in the Middle East. If reports are correct, they will be offered a restoration of diplomatic relations provided they cease being terrorist sponsors in Iraq and allow an orderly disengagement by America. The noises from Tehran and Damascus yesterday were positive about regional talks which is hardly surprising. I’m sure President Ahmedinejad would be only too happy to participate in any process that involved the departure of US troops, because that would mean Iran had won. It would allow him to portray himself across the Middle East as the Muslim who saw off the Americans.
It’s time to face up to the reality of America’s defeat in Iraq - for that is what we are looking at. The greatest military power on earth has been unable to quell a revolt by - on the US military’s own estimates - fewer than 20,000 insurgents. The myth of American military supremacy is shattered; global hegemony revealed as a neo con fantasy.After a fatal mistake in after 2001, when the Republican neo Conservatives opted to settle an old score with Saddam instead of running Bin Laden to ground, America has lost the world’s affection and respect.
Washington wants to extricate itself from the quagmire as soon as decently possible. It has signalled to the world that ‘enough is enough’ and that, as the neo Conservative Richard Perle put it, there is little to be served by remaining in a country which is determined to go to war with itself. “We did our best” he says, to light a beacon for democracy in the middle east - but there are simply too many people in the region determined to snuff it.
But talk of beacons is more than a little tasteless when the entire country of Iraq is demonstrably in flames. And it is America and Britain who ignited the conflagration with our illegal invasion of a country that posed no military threat in pursuit of WMD that wasn’t there.
The noises from Washington about “phased withdrawal” have made the security situation in Iraq even worse, as the insurgents see the humiliation of the Great Crusader as within their grasp. The violence in Iraq is out of control. The numbers of car and roadside bombs has doubled since 2004. Multiple-fatality bombings are up from 20 a month in 2004 to 57 in June 2006 - according to the Multinational Force’s own figures. A hundred people a day are dying, the vast majority of them Iraqi civilians.
\ After criminality on this scale, it’ll be a long time before anyone can take America seriously as the ‘world’s policeman’. Its influence and prestige will be hugely diminished We can expect a proliferation of nuclear weapons, throughout the Middle East, if Iran is allowed to go nuclear following North Korea’s lead.
Israel will find itself under repeated attacks from an invigorated Hezbollah in the Lebanon and a revived Hamas in Gaza. The resolve of the Taleban and al Qaeda will be made all the greater in Afghanistan.
International terrorism will become immeasurably worse as Iraq turns into a training camp for jihadists. The streets of Britain will remain unsafe as Islamists take the war, as they see it, home to the British mainland. The security services are increasingly worried about a nuclear atrocity somewhere in the UK.
All this may sound rather apocalyptic, but it is had to overestimate the sheer magnitude of this crisis. The calamity of Iraq will have an impact far beyond the Middle East and will affect each an every one of us eventually.
Readers of this column will know that while I have been intensely critical of the Republican leadership in the US, I have always regarded America itself as a force for freedom in the world. It’s humiliation in Iraq will have terrible consequences - perhaps the worst being that the Western liberal democratic model will now be regarded in large parts of the world as a front for neo-imperialism.
America is now roughly where the Russians were in Afghanistan shortly before the Soviet Empire collapsed. For the second time in only twenty five years, a superpower has come to grief in the face of militant Islam. The real clash of civilisations, I fear, starts here.