Not Saussure

September 14, 2006

Kim Howells admits Lebanon ceasefire mistake

Filed under: Lebanon, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 9:05 pm

Kim Howells, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East, has come as close as anyone in this government ever gets to admitting they’ve made a mistake; I suppose we should be grateful that they ever try to apologise for anything, but I wish he done it in a rather more sensible manner. He was, says The Guardian,

speaking at a rare summer session of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, called to quiz officials about the Lebanon conflict.

and responding to a statement of the obvious remark from Labour MP Ken Purchase that

“It beggars belief that we could not have called simultaneously for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds, whilst recognising it was necessary to get a longer-term solution.”

Mr Blair, it will be remembered, was about the only head of government — other than Ehud Olmert and President Bush, of course — who didn’t call for an immediate cease-fire during the 34-day conflict.

Mr Howells explained, as the Indy reports

“I’m not saying that a dual approach might not have worked. I’m not saying that, I’m not dismissing that at all. Maybe it would have worked. What I am saying is we had to take decisions at the time based on what we knew and what intelligence we had. That’s why we took those decisions. They were taken in absolute good faith – not in complicity with the Americans or anyone else.” Mr Howells, who has a reputation for blunt speaking, went on to admit that it was “a difficult position to defend” and added: “We didn’t try to explain it very well.”

The Indy continues

Mr Blair’s visit to Beirut this week provoked a demonstration by hundreds of students who accused him of being pro-Israeli. In public, the Prime Minister has defended his position, saying his effectiveness as a mediator in the Middle East depended on good relations with the US and Israeli governments. But privately one of his senior advisers admitted this week: “We got it wrong. We didn’t get the balance right. We gave the impression we were against the ceasefire.”

Two questions. First, what effectiveness as a mediator? Between whom does he say he mediated in the recent war, for heaven’s sake? To what satisfactory outcome can anyone point that was in any way assisted by Blair’s refusal to join in the calls for a ceasefire? It may well be that it wouldn’t have done a great deal of good; that, as

former foreign office minister Denis MacShane, a Blair supporter, said: “In geopolitical terms, calling for a ceasefire would not have stopped a single bomb from being dropped or a single rocket from being fired, but the whole of Britain was outraged by what they saw on television and there are times when government must consider public opinion.”

What practical purpose, other than undermining his government, was served by ignoring general outrage at what was happening and by his adherence to President Bush’s line?

Second, what are we to make of this:

we had to take decisions at the time based on what we knew and what intelligence we had. That’s why we took those decisions. They were taken in absolute good faith – not in complicity with the Americans or anyone else

What ‘intelligence’, for Christ’s sake, is MI6 supposed to furnished to HMG that led Blair to act as he did — other, possibly than President Bush would be mightily peeved if his poodle didn’t come to heel?

Did he pick up the wrong briefing notes, perhaps? Sorry, but we’ve heard that line before; this time we’re supposed to be talking about calling, or not, for a ceasefire in Lebanon, not invading Iraq on the basis of duff information and dodgy dossiers. It was lame excuse then; it’s a nonsensical one this time round.

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