Systemic corruption does not deserve our tacit consent

The 19th century British politician, Lord Acton, averred that ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Over the last 150 or so years, this axiom on the link between power and corruption has proven time and again to be a highly perceptive comment on the darker side of human nature. From Nixon to Castro to Mugabe, there are countless instances of world leaders who subordinated the well-being of their people to the fulfilment their own self-interest. And while corruption is a widespread phenomenon, ranging from public service to private enterprise, from an individual to an international scale, it is at its most indefensible when committed by those acting in an official capacity for personal gain. Fostering a lack of accountability, transparency and good faith in government, corruption represents one of the single biggest threats to the well-being of a country.

When corruption is systemic, and corrupt practices are rewarded with wealth, power and impunity, then people are drawn into public service for the wrong reasons. Indeed, if there is a culture of impunity, then corruption represents a low-risk, high-reward means of advancing both you career standing and your personal fortune.

The numbers bear witness to the predominance of corruption throughout the world. Some sixty countries in the world are plagued by systemic corruption.  China and India, countries with populations of over a billion, are constantly battling systemic corruption.

Corruption is so inexcusable that it ought to be addressed head-on with comprehensive reform. And governments recognise that. And that is far less likely to be forthcoming if the common man and woman think that the personal motives of ruling officials are being prioritised over their own wellbeing. Which explains why it is very common for countries to task specialised anti-corruption committees with addressing the issue. However, when the problem is so entrenched and all-pervasive, these committees often merely act as a smokescreen. Take the example of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, who admitted having run a state-sponsored doping program for Russian athletes. Or Mishan Al-Jabourri, the head of the Iraqi anti-corruption committee, who brazenly admitted in February of last year that ‘everybody is corrupt, from the top to the bottom, including me’. It is disheartening that those tasked with rooting out corruption are engaged in the very same malpractices. Further, it shows that governments are often content with merely being seen to address corruption, rather than doing so in practice.

So what can realistically be done? It is plainly clear that this is a deeply rooted and highly complex problem, a problem whose exact character varies from country to country, but whose defining traits are universal. Effective reforms are reliant on political will. It is imperative that key political actors display credible intent to attack corruption at a systemic level. Those very same people who have acquired power and money in an imperfect system must be willing to use their influence to foster a new, meritocratic culture from the top down. On the other hand, there is the risk that the powerful in society, those with an incentive to maintain the status quo, will mobilise powerful forces to protect their own vested interests. Indeed, countless reformers with the most honourable intentions have failed out of an inability to neutralise resistance. Investigative bodies must be entirely independent and free from interference by the government or the judiciary system.

Corruption is something about which we cannot afford, in good conscience, to be defeatist. Corruption runs contrary to all that is humanly decent. It undermines democracy, it precludes meritocracy and it allows the few to steal from the many. Any attempt to fight corruption, however imperfect, is better than none.

A Recipe for a United Iraq?

‘Iraq is like a glass of water. Once you break the glass, how do you collect the water again?’ The words are those of a young girl from Mosul, a survivor of that city’s period under the control of so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS). For the past three decades, Iraq has experienced every form of armed conflict you could think of, leaving state institutions weak and dysfunctional and large areas of the country in ruins. Since the 2003 Iraq war, and the ensuing years of unrest culminating in the three-year struggle against ISIS, Iraq has not seen a moment of peace.

As ISIS is being driven out of Iraq’s towns and villages, the country still faces challenges not dissimilar to those that contributed to the creation of ISIS in the first place. These include:

  • The ethno-sectarian adversarial relationship between Iraq’s central government and Kurdistan’s regional government, and between that selfsame predominantly Shi’a government, with its ideologically motivated Shi’a militias, and the disenfranchised Sunni population.
  • The extreme lack of transparency that helps rank Iraq among the world’s top five for corruption.
  • Conflicting external pressures from the US and the various regional players, foremost amongst which is Iran.

These three lingering interconnected challenges have created fertile soil for terrorist groups to flourish, and remain an obstacle to any dream of a united Iraq.

Claims of victory over ISIS should not be exaggerated. The country has been here before. Triumphalist policies employed by then Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, from 2006 onward, in his attempt to defeat Al Qaeda (AQ) in Iraq, proved counterproductive and led to the rebirth of Al Qaeda as ISIS. Although the persistence of the challenge does not necessarily mean that history will repeat itself, in order to avoid another catastrophic situation, it is crucial to approach this challenge in a different and more constructive manner.

A high price was paid for the defeat of ISIS, particularly in majority Sunni areas, but this victory has also brought hope and has created a space in which the Iraqi people could yet unite. The challenges run deep, however. The 2018 national elections are approaching, the outcome of which depends on these interconnected challenges and will determine the stability of Iraq over the coming decade. The political landscape of Iraq today is dominated by two camps: those who support Iran, and the self-styled Iraqi nationalists.

Rival to the current Prime Minister in the upcoming elections is the former Prime Minister, Nouri Al Maliki, who still retains strong support among Shi’a segments of society and most certainly falls into the pro-Iran camp. In Iraq, most of the blame for the destructive period that saw the creation and rapid growth of ISIS should be pinned on Al Maliki; whereas, much of the credit for the victory over ISIS should be given to Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. That said Al Abadi and his Iraq Army couldn’t have done it without the help of the Popular Mobilization Force and their allies the Iranian Quds Force, the US Air Force and the array of coalition warplanes that took to the skies at their side, and the Kurds.

The Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a coalition of some sixty predominantly Shi’a militias, many of whom are Iran backed, has become the dominant fighting force in the country, largely due to its role in the battle against ISIS. Some of the Shi’a militias are Iraqi nationalists, but most of the powerful ones are openly pro-Iran and have a documented record of sectarian violence, which was arguably one of the main elements fueling the rise of ISIS in the first place. Qasem Sulaimani, Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Forces, was the first to declare the defeat of ISIS and he did so in a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This move underscores the hold Iran has over Iraq, and highlights Iran’s intention to maintain and to further this influence.

In an attempt to contain the PMF, Iraq’s parliament passed a law in late 2016 allowing the inclusion of the PMF as part of Iraq’s regular armed forces. However, the militias’ ethnosectarian base, their evident loyalty to Iran and their recent emboldening will arguably undermine the democratic process in Iraq.

The major Shi’a militias, including the Badr Organisation as well as Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), have announced their intention to create a unified bloc in the coming elections. Although Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi has banned militia leaders from running for both parliamentary and provincial office, a number of PMF political affiliates have registered for the elections.

Prime Minister Al Abadi’s move to restrain the militias represents just one dimension in his struggle to tackle sectarianism, repression and corruption as well as Iraq’s vulnerability to external influence.

A new anti-corruption campaign has been launched which could arguably be as much of a challenge as the fight against ISIS. The Prime Minister had the backing of Iraq’s highest religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in his earlier attempt to tackle corruption in 2016.  Since the formation of the PMF was fuelled by a religious edict (Fatwa) from Ayatollah al-Sistani in 2014, perhaps another Fatwa could foster the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of militia members. That would be a strong step towards reestablishing national unity but would require the right circumstances.

Because of the commitment of Prime Minister Al Abadi to the union of the country, there may yet be hope to establish a strongly nationalist Iraq government that includes Shi’as, Sunnis, Kurds and other minority groups. The greatest counterweight to the challenges facing Iraq today is to enhance the Iraq national identity.

And there is every chance to do just that given the set of  circumstances that are now in place.

The Kurds have been forced to work for a fair power-sharing arrangement. Although the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) took control over much of the disputed territories after the 2003 US invasion, and subsequently during the battle against ISIS, they have now lost all of their gains in the aftermath of their abortive bid for independence. The KRG has had to fall back on a campaign to promote stronger and more effective federalism. This new approach is reflected in:

  1. Their effective acceptance of the court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of the recent independence referendum and,
  2. Their retreat when faced with the PMF’s advance into the disputed territories after the referendum.

The Sunnis in Iraq are exhausted and every sectarian Sunni card has been exploited and played. After the 2003 US invasion, despite a promising start under Iyad Allawi’s premiership, the subsequent rise to power of Nouri Al Maliki heralded what became, from a Sunni perspective, a repressive Shi’a government. Ordinary Sunnis were ready to welcome anyone as a savior. So ISIS took control, then when the people learned of ISIS’s true intentions, it was too late for them to do anything about it.

The success of the Global Coalition against ISIS depended on a decisive force, destroying and killing everything that stood in its way. The fight against ISIS took the status of the Sunni majority areas from zero to negative, to a political no-man’s land. Sunnis in Iraq are moving toward what is called new Sunni realism. In this dire situation, Sunnis won’t give up their identity, but their hope is for a better future for themselves, their children and their country as a nation.

It is not only the Sunnis and the Kurds who want a united Iraq. The Shi’a population is also suffering from the lack of goods and services under the rule of  a supposedly Shi’a-dominated government. Rates of poverty and unemployment are at their highest in majority Shi’a provinces just as they are everywhere else. Between 2003 and 2013, mostly Nouri Al Maliki’s tenure, not a single new hospital or power plant was built despite the spending of $500 billion in public funds. A number of prominent Shi’a clerics have blamed the enduring failure of state institutions on corruption and the damaging influence of external powers, particularly Iran. Iraqi Shi’a cleric Muqtada al Sadr,  an Iraqi nationalist who opposes Iran’s meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, inspired a number of protests by Shi’a groups in Baghdad last year.

So, back to the question; if you break the glass, how do you collect the water? Iraq needs a functional, transparent, and inclusive government.  And the international community, particularly the Global Coalition against ISIS, has to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq with the same enthusiasm as it did in the fight against ISIS. As Dr. William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation stated, it is a moral and honorable obligation to at least ‘divert Western aid money to post-conflict Iraq and to specifically use it to construct social housing in areas we [the West] have bombed in the past two to three years.’ A stable, prosperous, and, more importantly, united Iraq, is in the interest of the region and the world.

How about Loving Yemen?

And then there was Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at this time.

And who fights this war? From the air, it is the Gulf Arab states. From the ground it is, additionally, mercenaries from Pakistan and Sudan, plus a very few Yemenis still loyal to the remnant of the internationally recognised government of Yemen that ran away.

And on the other side? A Houthi-led band of assorted Yemeni rebels in the North, and (quite separately and not allied to the first band) Al-Qaida in the South. Admittedly an oversimplification, but that’s basically it.

And the internationally recognised, Saudi-backed government has retreated to Saudi Arabia and lost credibility. And the way forward? Peace talks. But the Saudi Arabian-led coalition of Gulf states seems reluctant to engage in peace talks that do not result in the surrender of their enemies.

That said, the Houthis are not invariably a pleasant bunch. They chant obscenities like “Death to the USA. Death to Israel”, from their mosques. They do not sound like the kind of guys you’d want to have go out with your daughter.

So the answer for Yemen, in my view, is partition. The North took over the South through conquest. In my own lifetime Yemen has been two countries: North Yemen and South Yemen. And these fiercely independent and warlike people were easier to get on with as two separate nations.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia should give up its dreams of hegemony over North Yemen. Let it go. It’s not worth it. Let her breathe. Give her a chance to grow up on her own.

The Saudis should be content with taking over South Yemen as a puppet state. Bring prosperity to South Yemen. Take it into the G.C.C. (the Gulf Cooperation Council).

This is a war of attrition. You can never defeat them. Best to leave them alone.

Poor Egypt and poor Sinai

Poor Egypt. Can you imagine it? Prices of goods have gone through the roof, including the price of basic foodstuffs. These are harsh times.

Meanwhile, even the elite suffer, with the introduction of more draconian taxes.

However, President Sisi remains moderately popular. America still continues to provide huge financial support to the Egyptian army. And there is still some Gulf money coming in, though less than there once was. And nobody wants more revolution and counter revolution. So, for now, Egyptians are patient. They have no choice. Indeed, many are fiercely loyal to President Sisi.

The one source of income that truly filters through to the people in Egypt is tourism. But this is an industry that limps along at best. What, then, can be done?

Peace in the Sinai would make such a difference. Each time there is trouble from the Arabs of the Sinai, its sets Egyptian tourism back on its heels.

Of course, it’s not just that. Each time there is an attack on a Coptic church. Each time there is a killing of any kind like the killing of the Italian PHD student, Giulio Regeni in 2016, tourism is knocked back severely.

The thing is that Egypt has never quite got the knack of dealing with its social, political and ethnic minorities, like the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Copts, the Sinai Arabs and the Nubians. But they are Egypt. All of them. Egypt is a mosaic.

And the best starting point in sorting out the conundrum that is Egypt would be to deal with the Sinai Arabs. And to deal with them in a spirit of brotherly love.

All that is needed is one major industrial project in the unhappy town of Al Arish, Sinai’s de facto capital. A steelworks or something. It would change the mood of the people of Sinai, and potentially mark the beginning of the end for extremism in Egypt.

Both Sudan and South Sudan in aching need of a little brotherly love

Sudan was once the largest country in Africa at a million square miles. Then the British ripped it into two using the pretext of a referendum on a rigged ballot in which South Sudanese refugees and those displaced to the North were denied the vote. All this “for the good of Sudan”.

It is way past time for us to stop “playing the Great Game”. We are not good at it and we were never good at it.

And now the North is riven by war, and South Sudan is riven by war. And come the day they solve that, they will probably start fighting each other.

Unless, that is, we start seeing a little brotherly love.

And the easiest conflict to solve is the worst of conflicts, that in the South Sudan between Southerners backing the President and Southerners backing the exiled Vice President.

President of South Sudan, the war leader Salva Kiir, sits in Juba, the capital. The exiled vice president, his political rival Reik Machar, sits in South Africa. And church leaders go back and forth between them. Which doesn’t work.

What is needed is a conference for representatives of both sides to come together. And not in South Sudan. Nor in South Africa. Nor in any other Arab or African country, all of which will be regarded as parti-pris.

No, it should be in Britain. After all, we were the ones who created the mess in the first place.

And why not go for the whole deal while we are about it. A conference on all the issues of the South and the North, as all the issues are interrelated, with Northerners fighting for factions in the South and vice-versa. Indeed, with everyone fighting each other.

Worth a shot wouldn’t you say? Perhaps we’ll try it. Somebody should.

Stubbornness will only lead to more misery

Since the defeat of ISIS at the hands of the Syrian army in Deir-Ezzor, hopes have been high for the resumption of a genuine political process between the Syrian government and the western-sponsored opposition. A fresh round of Geneva negotiations is already on the agenda. Russia’s efforts, alongside Turkey and Iran, seemed to be heading in the right direction. Bashar al Assad’s meeting in Sochi with his Russian counterpart and ally, Vladimir Putin, was described to us as ‘constructive’ and ‘fruitful’, with the Syrian leader expressing his readiness for engaging in positive dialogue with all parties. Expectations, even from the usually pessimistic press, were surprisingly high.

But this optimism has little chance of living up to expectations. Any prospect for peace is always welcome, but such hopes are invariably dashed by two major obstacles: either unreasonable obstinacy, or persistent delusion.

Repeated demands by the UN-recognized opposition, that President Assad leave power at the start of any transition, or that Iran withdraw all military forces and militias (including Hezbollah) from Syria immediately, are simply unrealistic, and delusional. The armed rebel groups are not in the same position as they were prior to Russia’s intervention. They have less leverage over the Syrian government, which has regained momentum and confidence over the past two years. Russia succeeded in bolstering President Assad’s forces, giving them the upper hand on the battlefield, and allowing them to reclaim much of the territory previously conceded to the rebels, including Aleppo City, a moment in history that was a major turning point in the conflict.

Syrian President Assad’s pledge to ‘retake every inch of Syria’ would also seem unrealistic in the short term; as such an objective could never be achieved without at least another two or three years of all-out war. Whether he truly intends to retake the entire country and genuinely believes the task is possible, or whether he said this for media purposes, is irrelevant. If Syria is to have any chance of peace and national reconciliation, both the government and the moderate opposition groups must accept the realities of the current situation, whilst agreeing to negotiate in good faith and without setting preconditions.

To most objective and logical observers, it appears that a military solution is no longer viable, if it ever was: the rebels have lost some of their most important strongholds, including Aleppo, the entirety of Western Ghouta, a considerable part of Eastern Ghouta, and continue to lose ground in northern Hama. They have also lost all their gains in Latakia province, 95% of which is currently government controlled. And whilst the government’s army is advancing on multiple fronts and launching successful offensives, they are also exhausted, overstretched, suffering from a shortage in manpower, and overly reliant on Russian air support.

Despite efforts to unite the fragmented political opposition and bring the government to the table, many important factions remain excluded from the peace process. The YPG, the single most significant force in the fight against ISIS, has not been invited to Geneva. This preeminent faction of the Syrian Kurds deserves to be represented in any negotiations concerning the fate of their country. For that matter Rifaat al-Assad’s United Nationals Democratic Alliance (UNDA), is also excluded from the peace talks. As are those Syrian Baathists in the opposition, who defected several decades ago. As are most secular factions.

Figures such as Riyad Hijab, former Syrian Prime Minister who defected during the early phase of the conflict, are of no political relevance to current events. Nor is Mohamed Alloush remotely relevant. Mr Alloush, a complete unknown to the Syrian public, made his name in 2016 for attracting controversy at the Geneva peace talks merely because of his family connection to Zahran Alloush, founding-commander of Jaysh al-Islam rebel faction. As for the newly-appointed head of the ‘High Negotiations Committee’ Nasr al-Hariri,  Syrians hadn’t heard of Mr. Hariri until his comments regarding the immediate departure of the Syrian president from power only two days ago. Very few of them would even remember his name if you asked them today. Such individuals are often placed in the limelight and given media attention, without having any real public support. They represent themselves and the delegations they speak for, but they represent nobody in Syria.

The opposition delegation attending the Geneva conference is not as inclusive and representative as Mr. de Mistura believes it to be. Perhaps it is time he reconsidered his approach.

 

Iraq – a Practical Approach to Reconstruction

There are a whole raft of issues in the much fought-over country called Iraq: the Kurdish question; the 2018 elections; getting rid of ISIS; and the rest.

One certainty is that we in the West have bombed countless homes into oblivion in the battle to defeat ISIS. One US strike on Mosul on 17th March of this year, targeting two ISIS fighters on a roof, killed almost 200 people, according to the Human Rights Watch. Whether or not you view Human Rights Watch as a credible source what is indisputable is that much of central Mosul has been obliterated.

Meanwhile there are refugees all over the place in makeshift camps. I hate and have always hated UN speak, whereby refugees who do not cross borders are called IDPs or “internally displaced persons”. A refugee is a refugee is a refugee.

Some of these refugees are the widowed wives of ISIS fighters who, along with their children, are kept in prison camps. They hate us of course. And nobody knows what to do with them.

An answer, not just to the ISIS wives but also to help ameliorate the wider refugee problem, would be to divert Western aid money to post conflict Iraq and to specifically use it to construct social housing in areas we have bombed in the past two to three years. Just the areas we have bombed. Just the houses we have destroyed. To do so is honourable. It was not our intention to hit civilians – but hit them we did. We had good reason for making the air strikes we made. But where we were culpable for the collateral damage and we could and should make amends.

Northern Ireland – the Economy becomes a political issue

Many of us believe in the vision of the Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, that of a world without frontiers. I have always disliked nationalism. My creed is all for one and one for all in a brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind.

But I understand nationalism in all its dimensions. I dislike it but I understand it. Irish nationalism, like its cousins in other nations, is an impassioned crucible of love. So it is easy to understand why Sinn Fein wishes to retain its status as a pan-Irish movement. Just as it is easy to understand why so many want an open border between North and South for the free movement of goods.

That’s fine. So why are the Brexit negotiations so pedantically framed that the Irish Border issue comes up for resolution before the trade deal is signed? If there is a successful trade deal there will be no need for a border agreement because goods can and will flow freely regardless. The cart has been put before the horse.

The Brexit vote forced on the British people because of David Cameron’s fear of an emergent UKIP was divisive at best. But it is done. The sooner we get on with life and put it behind us the better. The European Union should be more considerate and less obstreperous.

More considerate because outside the Oxbridge-London-Sussex bubble that remains comfortably isolated from the nation at large, many simply do not care whether there’s a no-deal Brexit. Do your own straw poll if you like. The results may astound you. Many outside of London are more than happy to see the UK crash out of Europe without a deal.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face? Maybe. But Britain imports more from Europe than it sells to Europe, so it’s not the end of the world. But for Ireland and the spirit of the Northern Ireland agreement, the consequences could be dire. Because once you slap in that border, even if only for goods traffic, Irish nationalists may perhaps be enraged.

Syria as a Secular Democracy

Secularism is the single most important feature to preserve in a future Syria. Syria has been a secular state since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The secularization process, which began during the French mandate, has served as a crucial guarantee for the country’s religious and ethnic minorities. Currently the bloody civil war is perhaps reaching its concluding chapter. The danger Syrians face at this stage, at a time when the world might otherwise be focused on beginning a period of genuine democratization, is the omnipresent extremism and religious intolerance which continues to hold sway, despite the decisive victories against ISIS on the battlefield.

ISIS may soon cease to exist as an armed force. But the ideology of Daesh, that of hatred and persecution of the infidel, remains deeply entrenched at the core of conservative Islamic communities, particularly in Idlib province, some rural areas surrounding Damascus, and to a lesser extent in the city of Hama.

Prior to the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, Syrians lived together in harmony. Syria set an example for neighbouring Arab states, especially Iraq and Lebanon. Syria was a functioning and economically prosperous state with peace, security and stability. But that sense of security stems from Syria’s internationally commended national unity in the absence of religious tensions.

Secularism is the only guarantee for women’s rights. Most in the liberal west would agree that it is a woman’s choice whether or not to wear the veil. This freedom of choice is removed by the tyranny of extremist theocracies. If we are truly committed to improving Syria as a country, rather than drowning in our obsession with regime change, all aspects of Syrian society must be taken into serious consideration.

A secular and civil state, with secular state institutions, a secular constitution, and secular laws, guarantees the rights of all religious minorities, at a time of unprecedented ambiguity regarding the country’s political future. Alawites, Christians, Druze, Ismailis, and the majority of Sunnis, particularly the new generation and the educated classes, grew increasingly suspicious of the western-sponsored non-ISIS opposition, amongst concerns that they were not, in substance, that different from Daesh. A secular Syrian democracy, which maintains the rule of law, and guarantees the rights of all sectors of society, would reassure those currently living in fear and panic.

Even under the current constitution, despite the secular nature of the Baathist state, it is mandatory that the president be Muslim-born. Further, the main source of legislation is the Quran. Such laws clearly contradict the very essence of secular governance.

Economy of Effort – the least difficult way forward in regard to Libya

There are four governments in Libya now:

  • One is the old Congress in Tripoli that won’t go away;
  • Another is General Haftar’s gang that rules the East;
  • Another is the internationally recognised government;
  • And the fourth is the UN-sponsored amalgam whose remit is to bring peace to the country.

And the international powers watch Libya burn. None bar Italy actually have an embassy in Tripoli. The rest of us watch from afar, though it was us who created this mess.

Italy has her reasons for being more proactively engaged of course, the migrant issue being chief among them. The river of migrants from Africa cuts for the coast through chaos-ridden Libya, and hence through the Med to Italy.

A side-issue here. Italian PHD student Giulio Regeni was beaten to death in Egypt in January 2016. Apparently overzealous members of the security services had been prompted to ruthless murder because of his having met Muslim Brotherhood members as part of research for his thesis on trade unionism.

Italy broke off diplomatic relations with Egypt in protest. So Egypt used its influence over General Haftar of Libya to get him to turn off the tap and stop the migration to Italy. Which Haftar, who had clout with the traffickers, rapidly did. As a consequence, Italy renewed its diplomatic ties with Egypt in September 2017.

Meanwhile, ironically, someone Haftar had no power over re-commenced the trafficking. Haftar had cut migration to a trickle. Now, once again, it is a flood.

We the people of Europe pay a price for the Anglo-French adventure in Libya. Unless, that is, you favour the continuation of this gruellingly cruel migration route

But have any of us the courage to have a diplomatic mission in Tripoli, Libya? No. Well only Italy amongst the countries of the world, and they have no real choice.

Understandable, perhaps. They all left for good soon after the US ambassador was murdered in Benghazi.

But now the killing of the wonderful Chris Stephens in 2012 must be put behind us. It’s time to go back, and go back we must. It is an easy and economical step for which there may be huge dividends, and without which the tide of migrants will almost inevitably continue. It is a step we can and must take.

 

Get Real on Russia

Russia hates the West and the West hates Russia. Or so it seems much of the time. All that Russian dastardliness over Ukraine for a start. From a Russian perspective, places like Ukraine and Syria have always fallen within their hegemony, and we in the West are trying to muscle in on their patch. Which is of course true. We are doing just that.

In regard to Russia the scales are reversed. There is far too much emphasis on Russia’s hegemonic misdeeds which are minor in comparison to those of the West (e.g. the catastrophic Anglo-French promotion of war in Libya despite Russian misgivings).

And meanwhile human rights abuses in Russia are almost utterly ignored.

In Russia it is now a crime to “Deny Traditional Family Values” (an anti-gay measure). In Russia, any form of domestic abuse that does not require hospital treatment is no longer a crime. And now there are murmurs about a proposed draconian anti-abortion law to appease the Orthodox Church. We need constructive dialogue with Russia. It is in their interest and it is in our interest.

Meanwhile it was extraordinary to hear British Premier Theresa May accusing Russia of interference in Western elections the other day in her Mansion House speech. We in the West were past masters at interfering in Soviet elections back in the day. We had a whole disinformation department established by my late father’s friend Lord Mayhew. It was called the IRD, or the Information Research Department. It was disbanded by Lord Owen during his tenure as Foreign Secretary in 1977. But that didn’t stop us interfering in the last Russian elections – or that at least is the Russian perception. Nor does it stop us from putting ruthless pressure on Russia even at the most petty level, such as the recent moves to freeze the Russia Today bank account in the UK by the National Westminster Bank.

We need to be wiser and less petty and work together with Russia to build a safer world. Our petty politics should end. Another Cold War serves nobody.

The Challenge that is Lebanon

The entire international community has come forward boldly and forcefully to stop attempts to extend the merciless Sunni-Shiite proxy war being fought out in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria, extending to poor little Lebanon.

Lebanon barely functions. Its country lanes strewn with trash because the longstanding rubbish strike made it the dirtiest country on earth. And then there is the influx of countless refugees in their millions, first from Palestine, and now from Syria, with little help from the West to help cater for them.

The trouble for Lebanon is that the two beasts of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are head to head in a war of attrition – or proxy war of attrition if you prefer – which neither can ever win.

Perhaps there might be the political will in the West to bring them to the table over Yemen, where millions go hungry. The reality, in my view, is that Iran has little real control over the Houthis of Yemen. But the issue is that they are perceived as having control. And Saudi Arabia feels it has to respond to Iran’s pursuit of hegemony in areas it perceives as its own backyard – like Yemen – and Lebanon.

The message then for the international community is “Do nothing to provoke war before war is declared”.

There is no civil war in Lebanon. There need be no civil war in Lebanon. And if we tread carefully we can help ensure there will be no civil war in Lebanon.

And credit where credit is due, the international community seems to be doing a great job ensuring that little Lebanon remains safe.

As to the wider issue, they whisper that Iran stands ready to negotiate on a ‘You take Yemen, we take Syria’ basis. But Saudi Arabia does not. So we have an impasse. And meanwhile the common people die. Time someone knocked their heads together.