LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: Diplomacy, not bombs will defeat ISIS. The west is being sucked into a sectarian conflict

So, David Cameron, like Tony Blair before him, pledges to help the US in the Middle East. We know that that sort of intervention is unlikely to end well. It would also be unlikely that the UN would ever agree to sanction any military action. Russia and China would just block it. So the option would be to have another Iraq, without properly defined objectives and potentially make a horrendous situation even worse.

I don’t always agree with Paddy, but he’s always my first port of call on foreign affairs. He’s been writing for the Independent about what should happen next and what is the best way to tackle the growing ISIS problem. And if you are under any illusion about life under ISIS, have a look at how they treat women and gay people.

Paddy reckons we’ve been too careless, too quick to grab the guns instead of quietly building international coalitions to tackle the major problems faced in the region.

We see a problem in the world and our first instinct is to bomb it. We have become obsessed with high explosives as an instrument for peace.

George Bush Snr knew better. He carefully constructed a Middle East coalition before Gulf War one, making it seem Western forces were the instrument of Arab will – and he won.

George Bush Jnr ditched diplomacy in favour of Western “shock and awe” – and lost. We repeated the mistake in Afghanistan, using high explosives as a substitute for the kind of patient diplomacy to bring in the neighbours in a regional treaty, as we had done in Bosnia – and lost.

In Libya we could have created a wide regional coalition with countries like Turkey first to liberate the country and then rebuild it afterwards. Instead the West chose to blast Gaddafi out and then abandon the country to chaos afterwards.

So how does he think we should tackle ISIS?

The best thing Britain could do to defeat Isis is not to add a tiny quantum to the more than sufficient pile of high explosives already falling on Iraq and Syria, but to use its diplomatic skills through the EU to begin to assemble a wide diplomatic coalition aimed at smothering Isis. This should include Iran and moderate Sunni states such as Turkey.

And yes, why not Russia too? We have no choice but to play hardball with Moscow over Ukraine. But offering Putin a partnership on defeating the Sunni jihad which threatens us both would add huge weight to our ability to succeed and avoid the mistake of pushing Russia into a corner from which there is no escape.

You can read the whole article here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • John Tilley 23rd Jul '15 - 9:20am

    And if you are under any illusion about life under The Daesh, have a look at how they treat women and gay people.

    Or alternatively —
    And if you are under any illusion about life under Saudi Arabian feudal tyrants, have a look at how they treat women and gay people.

    Paddy does not mention Saudi Arabia.
    Perhaps he does not want to upset Prince Charles who seems to spend more time with his fellow royals in Saudi than he does in Wales or Cornwall.

  • Bill le Breton 23rd Jul '15 - 9:32am

    This is of course an iteration of the speech Paddy gave in the Lord’s not long ago, which I wrote congratulating him on the morning after and which I drew attention to here at the time, and which Voice subsequently reprinted in full.

    It is indeed wise, very wise counsel.

    Perhaps readers might like to imagine the impact of Paddy’s last two paragraphs (in the extracts above) if he had applied them to Syria at the time he and Clegg were all for adding substantially to the “”” more than sufficient pile of high explosives already falling on Iraq””””

    Are their two Paddy Ashdowns ? 😉 If so, this is the one I most admire.

  • Completely agree with Paddy, but this represents quite a turn around in his thinking. In 2013 when it was Assad rather than ISIS causing the most concern for the international community Paddy was all for bombing first and asking questions later and was arguing for Lib Dem backbenchers to vote for military action. Thankfully enough didn’t.

  • I don’t see how diplomacy can smother ISIS or save lives. To me the problem is that we have spent far too much time working with religious fruitcakes and this is consequence, The way to crush ISIS is to physically crush it, with proper forces.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '15 - 11:04am

    Saddam Hussein’s predecessor wanted to invade Kuwait, presumably for the oil-money. He was deterred.
    According to his writings a young Paddy Ashdown had, in the process, been taught to dance Scottish reels, presumably under military discipline, while sailing towards the beaches of Kuwait.
    After Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait a coalition of western and Arab forces was formed. George Bush senior had been head of the CIA, ambassador to China, candidatefor the Republican nomination for US President and Vice-President for eight years under Ronald Reagan before being elected as President himself. He knew a lot of leaders around the world, while his son, George W Bush, had been Governor of Texas and famously could not identify prominent politicians, such as the Prime Minister of Israel “A good Jewish boy” (well yes, but they all were).
    The Arab countries only went into Kuwait. The western forces of USA, UK, France, etc went into Iraq.
    George Bush senior called off the “turkey shoot” involved in bombing Iraqi assets such as power stations. Former UK PM Edward Heath agreed vociferously “Do you want to occupy Iraq?”

    George W Bush had no need to liberate Kuwait. He invaded Iraq. He did occupy it.

    Senator Obama opposed “two wars”. Is it likely that President Obama will reverse his long-standing policy and put US boots on the ground in Iraq?
    Maybe this frustrates David Cameron. Does he want Donald Trump to be US President?

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '15 - 11:07am

    Please excuse a slip.
    Israel had previously had a female Prime Minister, Golda Meir, whose autobiography ‘My Life’ is well worth reading.

  • Glenn
    Have you learned nothing from the last 35 years?

    Some people said the way to crush The Taliban is “is to physically crush it, with proper forces.”.
    Some people said the way to crush Saddam and Iraq “is to physically crush it, with proper forces.”
    Some people said the way to crush Libya “is to physically crush it, with proper forces.”
    Some people said the way to crush Assad “is to physically crush it, with proper forces.”

    Which of these would you say worked well?

    Diplomacy has in the last couple of weeks (after nine years of patient hard work) been used to bring Iran back into the international fold and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
    In practice, Diplomacy seems to be working a lot better than “proper forces”.
    It would of course be much less exciting than sending someone else’s children to die in the desert so that you can play exciting military games of “crushing” people.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '15 - 4:59pm

    These wars provide the armaments companies with opportunities to test their new equipment for real.
    During one of the invasions of Iraq we were shown on TV a recording of a missile which had been fired by Americans. It had followed the main road, turned left at the traffic lights (no mention of red or green) gone down a chimney and exploded in the Iraqi air force command and control centre, described by the American as ‘My opposite number’.

    These clever weapons were used to persuade political leaders and the general public of “surgical strikes”, but such weapons were few and probably expensive. Other weapons were used more often and created a lot of ‘collateral damage’ to civilians and non-target property.

  • John Tilley.
    Who exactly do you think diplomacy should be aimed at! And in the end it will still involve troops. It’s just a matter of whose troops. Is there any evidence that local troops are better or kill less civilians. The point is the damage as already been done. I was never in favour of the nonsense in Libya, or Syria or Iraq. ISIS are not a stable government and so dealing with them would not be the same thing in any shape or form. I think if you put troops on the ground you could push them back probably very quickly. To me, our governments did the damage and we have to take responsibility for it.

  • John Tilley

    Armed force or diplomacy god knows what will work. You list a fair few instances where armed force has failed, but you could just have easily made a long list when it was needed after diplomacy had failed. Many would say it failed against the Taliban – perhaps the nearest to ISIS we have had – because we used only a fraction of the troops we should have done. It’s hard to have diplomacy with people who rape and behead others for no other reason than they are a different religion. Who do you talk to and what happens to the people of Iraq and Syria during the many years that these talks will last. It sure isn’t easy, but I don’t see any option that doesn’t include military action.

  • John Tilley 23rd Jul '15 - 9:42pm

    malc 23rd Jul ’15 – 9:07pm

    I think you make a good point that diplomacy will not work with the Daesh. The central message of Paddy’s piece was however diplomacy with others to help defeat our enemy.

    In this case using the troops of “Western Crusader Nations” – as they are dubbed – would be playing into the hands of our enemies.

    Unfortunately too many people including Cameron and Blair seldom seem to even consider diplomacy but jump straight to the military option with its political bonus of wrapping oneself in the flag and turning up for carefully orchestrated photo-opportunities with the troops.
    There is something especially unpleasant about politicians who, in Blair’s words, are “prepared to pay the blood price”.
    It is usually not their blood, nor the blood of their 19 year old sons or daughters.

    As for The Taliban, it is worth remembering their origin. When it suited the USA to fund and arm fighters to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the early 1980s they unfortunately did not take the long view. We have been living with the consequences of that military “solution” ever since.

  • Glenn 23rd Jul ’15 – 7:47pm

    Diplomacy needs to be used on a number of fronts in this case.
    First – diplomatic pressure to stop those countries that fund the Daesh, supply them with state of the art weapons and buy oil and looted archaeological treasures from the Daesh.
    Second – a diplomatic recognition on a broad front that the feudal tyrants of Saudi Arabia are a principle part of the problem and will never be a part of a solution because they are the source of Wahhabism.
    Third – an end to the demonisation of Iran would go a long way to rebalance the situation. President Obama at least seems to be aware of this and has made fantastic progress.
    Fourth – an end to the Western sponsorship and arming of Israel would result in a decent future for the Palestinians and remove one of the major sources of war and alienation within the region.
    I could go on, but I think you will get the drift.

    You are correct to say that the damage is already done. But Paddy’s point is I think that doing more damage will not help.
    Doing more damage simply puts off the time when we stop doing damage and start doing good.

  • A Social Lliberal 24th Jul '15 - 12:55am

    Malc almost has it when he said that we used only a fraction of the troops needed to defeat the Taliban.

    Almost true, but not quite. The allies defeated the Taliban army with ease in 2001, but then several important things happened.

    First, the allies trusted irregular troops and a less than reliable Pakistan army to surround and defeat the surviving Taliban and Al Qaeda forces holed up in Tora Bora. When the US realised that the Taliban was slipping away into Pakistan (whether by incompetence of those forces above or them being paid off I leave to your opinion) they tried using their mountain troops to get the Taliban into the caves and then use ‘daisy cutters’ on them. By then though, the Taliban had escaped and therefore lived to fight another day.

    Second, the allies withdrew most of their troops, allowing the Taliban to infiltrate and use assymetric fighting to oppose them.

    Third, the US and the UK began another war (in Iraq) without reinforcing the troops in Afghanistan. By doing so they condemned the forces in Afghanistan to a) being reactive and not proactive and b) not being able to hold the areas they were trying to protect.

    Amazingly, the allies (albeit a somewhat different set of allies) then committed EXACTLY the same mistakes again in Iraq, with the added idiocy of dismantling the local government and law enforcement (ridding the country of Ba-athists). Thus we had too many years of avoidable deaths of young men and women – not because we had boots on the ground but because we did not have enough bayonets to dominate the ground.

    It is telling that when General Petraeus initiated Kilcullens Joint Campaign Plan in what became The Surge the Ba-athist insurgency was stifled, the sunni murdering of shia only becoming once again prominent once the US and UK draw down of troops was in place. This success was echoed by Gen McChrystal in Afghanistan when he oversaw 30,000 US Marines move into and dominate Kandahar and the Helmand Valley.

    So when John Tilley (for whom I have the utmost respect in all things except military strategy) speaks of ‘physically crush[ing] it with proper forces’ he does not, in any of his examples, represent the actuality. It was the act of NOT using the ‘proper forces’ which resulted in the MIddle East we see today.

  • Richard Underhill,
    The Iraqis in the 1960s wished to reunite part of their country which had to use their words been cut off by the filthy British scissors. There is no question that Kuwait is part of Iraq or as one young Kuwaiti put it to me Basrah used to belong to Kuwait. I don’t blame the Kuwaitis for not wanting to be Iraqis after all they would have to get up in the morning and do some work. طني الكويت سلمت للمجد

  • malc
    War is a nasty business . In the Middle East you talk to the tribal elders.

  • John Tilley 24th Jul '15 - 1:36pm

    A Social Lliberal 24th Jul ’15 – 12:55am
    You may be correct that increased military presence in Afghanistan or Iraq may have eventually had a different result.
    You do seem to be suggesting that very long periods of military occupation would be necessary after an initial military victory to have achieved a permanent satisfactory resolution.
    So where will the resources come from for a UK military force of sufficient strength and overwhelmng numbers to subdue the Daesh Iraq and Syria?
    How many decades of military occupation by UK forces would be necessary?

    Why should the UK become embroiled in war after war? Why is it in our interest to do so?
    Would we not just be inviting more Daesh inspired terrorist attacks and “lone wolf” atrocities in our own country?

    I don’t think I would argue with your basic point.
    That is why I would not want to devote £ Billions to a useless cold war prestige project called Trident replacement.

  • Martin Hunt 24th Jul '15 - 2:26pm

    I thought we had a few Tridents hanging about unused. Diplomacy defeat Isis? Paddy’s gone potty!

  • A Social Liberal 25th Jul '15 - 3:30pm

    John Tilley asked many questions about why should a UK government sort out the mess of Daesh.

    First, I emphasise that this is not the remit of the UK alone. It SHOULD be the remit of the UN, but my ideas for a UN policing force are not going to happen in the forseeable future and so we have to look to our own.

    So, why should the rich countries of the world be in the van of the ‘coalition of the willing’?

    *We broke it. Not by invading Iraq but through the lack of foresight in the running the country in the days and months following capitulation. In Rumsfeld’s idiocy of withdrawing US troops to early, in Blairs denuding the UK contingent of men and materiel and in the moral cowardice of those in government at the time and since in preferring to think that premature draw down would solve our and their (Iraq/afghani) problems when all we have done is leave them in the dark and smelly.

    *Blatent self interest. Turning Iraq and Afghanistan into places that people would prefer not to be refugees from. Just as with foreign aid, if we help those people to transform the country in which they own the changes used to make a country which at least accepts that everyone has the same human rights then we will not have refugees running away. In this, Dfid has been culpable of near incompetence. I refer you to the letter from a Parachute Regiment officer in which Dfid refused to let him connect an industrial washing machine which would have serviced a hospital, stating the reason as being that at the washing was done by a woman who would have lost her income. They could have given the washing machine to the woman along with a generator. There are hundreds of examples of lack of thought.

    *It is the right thing to do. When the preamble to our constitution was written should we have said, “no citizen of the UK should be enslaved . . . . . “?

    When the latest chapter of the Irish troubles raised it’s nasty head, it would have been extremely easy of successive governments that the country had spent enough blood and treasure on a tiny minority of the UK’s citizenry and handed the country to Eire. We didn’t, instead spending 30 years in cowing vicious paramilitaries on both sides, bringing them to the point where they gave up violence. Afterwards we created a system that was much more equitable to both communities.

    If it was good enough for Northern Ireland, surely it is only right for it be good enough for Iraq?

  • Simon Banks 26th Jul '15 - 3:17pm

    I wouldn’t assume that Russia and China would block UN action against ISIS. Both of them have serious worries about Islamic fundamentalism (in both cases exacerbated by their own policies, of course.) ISIS is worse than the Saudis because it requires and feeds on chaos, so will act to destroy any progress towards peace or prosperity in countries it can affect.

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