Thursday, August 03, 2006

We must not fail Lebanon

The international community must prove it can resolve the conflict, not by just passing a resolution, but by deploying a serious military force.

John Williams, The Guardian, Comment is Free

The whole international community - in fact, the very idea of an international community - is facing a critical test now that, at last, agreement is emerging on a way to end the carnage in Lebanon.

If this test is failed, we might as well abandon the principle that we have a duty to intervene where sovereign nations can't or won't provide citizens with "the right to life, liberty and security of person", as the United Nations's Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it.

The UN charter pledges "to maintain peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace."

If ever a situation cried out for "effective collective measures", this is it. Neither of the state involved, Israel and Lebanon, is able to provide "security of person". The government of Lebanon is powerless to prevent Hizbullah firing rockets at Israel. Israel feels it has no means of defending itself than by attacking the sites from which the rockets are launched, even if many children are killed in the process.

It has taken Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, far too long to get there, but he is now calling for an international force that will bring about a ceasefire.

Should we - the whole international community - mishandle this challenge then the splendid words of the UN's founding documents will be worthless.

We might have to conclude that the doctrine of intervention had died somewhere in the rubble of Beirut.

Tony Blair's strong belief in the international community's obligation to intervene is one of the finest things about him. That is one reason for wishing he had said much earlier the words he used at his press conference today, calling for an "immediate ceasefire" on the adoption of a UN resolution.

He is obviously right that it must be "a ceasefire that holds on both sides", but he has allowed the impression to harden that he does not want a ceasefire at all. This has been damaging to the prime minister personally, and to his standing as a champion of intervention.

The prime minister first outlined his belief in intervention in a speech on "the doctrine of international community" in Chicago in 1999, during the Kosovo conflict.

Some commentators, for example Simon Jenkins, argued against this doctrine - and the military intervention - and maintained their objections after NATO had defeated the regime responsible for ethnic cleansing.

Last week, Simon Jenkins made the same case against an international force in Lebanon.

He wrote in the Guardian: "The idea of leaving wars to resolve themselves, states to find their own leaders and regions to evolve their own equilibrium is to them [those who want an international force deployed] not just mistaken but immoral."

I am not going to accuse those I disagree with of being immoral. But I don't see how we can allow a war to "resolve itself" when one side uses the morally repugnant tactic of hiding its rocket launchers amid the civilian population, and the other sees no alternative but to kill whoever is there.

Nor can I rest easy with a doctrine of "equilibrium" in which one regional power is led by a president (Ahmadinejad of Iran), who seeks the elimination of another (Israel).

I was working for Robin Cook, then foreign secretary, when the prime minister made his Chicago speech. After NATO's successful campaign to protect Kosovan Muslims, there seemed no doubt that we had been proved right and the critics wrong.

The same can't be said of Iraq, where the outcome has given critics a powerful case. My former colleague, Bill Patey, has given a bleak assessment, at the end of his time as ambassador to Baghdad, saying that civil war is "probably more likely" than the establishment of democracy.

I have no patience with the Today programme's John Humphrys trying to get supporters of intervention in Iraq to admit that it has been a mistake. How easy that is when you have never had to carry responsibility for decision-making without the benefit of hindsight.

I'm not convinced - though I question myself a lot - that it was a mistake. Timothy Garton Ash made a good point in today's Guardian that "transition to democracy can be a dangerous time ... it can actually increase the danger of violence."

Grim though the situation is, I can't quite accept that the Shia-Sunni hatred, which is the cause of so much bloodshed in Iraq, ought to have remained suppressed by a murderous dictatorship. This is not a clear-cut argument, with an obvious right and wrong. The continued killings must cause self-doubt among supporters of the intervention in Iraq, but critics must surely doubt that Iraq's immediate past was preferable.

What I do accept is that Iraq has made it easier to argue that intervention is wrong, because those who believe in "equilibrium" can call it in evidence for their case that we should always leave well alone.

We must not concede this argument, whether or not we disagree about Iraq - and I know most readers of this piece disagree passionately with the policy for which I was a spokesman.

Britain and France disagreed bitterly about Iraq. We are coming to agreement about Lebanon. It essential that we, and the US, do so quickly. The innocent civilians of Lebanon have no means of resolving the conflict in which they are caught. The international community must now prove that it does, not by just passing a resolution, but by deploying a serious military force.


At 10:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You post:

"After NATO's successful campaign to protect Kosovan Muslims, there seemed no doubt that we had been proved right and the critics wrong."

We were told that, after the hostilities, there would be UN sponsored experts who would go in and prove the mass graves.

Please present this proof.

The only report I have seen on the results of the search for bodies found about 2800 bodies. About 1500 of them appeared to the experts to be normal military combat deaths (male between 18 and 50 not tortured or shot at close range).

The rest of the bodies also gave no indication whether they were killed by Serb forces or the KLA who were, and are, a Muslim criminal terrorist organisation.

So, you think it was a good thing that the US bombed a countries civilians and infrastructure from high altitude based on PROPAGANDA in support of IslamoNazism?????

As I mentioned above, please present the evidence that the Serbs were attempting GENOCIDE or ANY large scale OPPRESSION of the KOSOVARS!!

Just as then, the MSM is passing on a LOT of bad information for numerous piss poor reasons!!


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