In an article in today’s Times, Paddy Ashdown concedes that David Cameron is probably right that the so-called War on Terror (a term Paddy dislikes) will go on for another decade. Paddy argues that we need to recognise that the way western countries have been operating doesn’t work. What is needed now is to recognise that the fight is between different factions of Islam. It should be our job to help out moderate governments where we can.
He outlined why the “invasions, main battle armies and occupation” of the last decade isn’t appropriate for the next:
But it would be a strategic blunder to use what happened in the past decade as a template for the next. There are three reasons for this. The way we have done it these past ten years hasn’t worked; Western defence cuts and public aversion to further conflict mean that we can’t do it that way any longer, even if we wanted to; and with the old orders in the Middle East fragmenting and Western models being increasingly rejected, we are now engaged in a totally different kind of conflict.
He outlined the sort of things we should be doing in the future:
The next phase will need to be regional in scope and based on partnership, intelligence, anticipation, political subtlety, close Western co-ordination and, perhaps most important of all, the judicious use of aid and assistance to enable threatened governments to cope for themselves. Where military action is required it will best be tightly targeted and small-scale. Boots on the ground should be a last resort because we have failed to act earlier — as in Mali where Islamic extremism, its causes, consequences and connections, have been very visible for ages. Watch Nigeria next.
And showed where that sort of approach has been successful:
There are no neat or comfortable ways of doing this, but enabling domestic governments in the Muslim world to fight this battle for themselves is likely to be better, safer and more effective than Western governments trying to do it for them. Look at Somalia, where careful, patient Western action (with Britain playing a key part) has enabled a democratic Somali government to begin to recover its country from the ravages of al-Shabaab extremism. It is far, far too early to declare a victory there. But in a region where there are few bright lights, Somalia at least provides a hopeful glow.
Paddy said that world leaders needed to understand the nature of the threat:
The underlying drive for most of what is happening in the world of Islam at the moment is not a war against the West but a widening religious conflict between the Sunni and the Shia for the soul of Islam. We have had such religious wars in Christianity, too. We can still see their distant echoes in Belfast and the Balkans. We should understand how destructive they can be.
You can read the whole article here (£)
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings