William Hague today: “We welcome the fact that new thinking has taken place in Washington, and we continue to hope that coalition efforts to bring stability to Iraq will be successful.  However, we remain sceptical that sending additional troops will achieve the desired results.  This is for several reasons: (1) Last year’s attempt to control Baghdad with more US troops was not successful…"

ConservativeHome expressed
its concerns at the Bush plan yesterday but from a very different
starting point to William Hague.  The reason the last effort to control
Baghdad was not successful was a lack of troops.  There was a capacity
to ‘clear’ an area of insurgent activity but insufficient capacity to
‘hold’ an area.  Unfortunately, it is probably true that Bush’s announced increase is only about half of what is necessary. 

William Hague today: "…(2) There is a risk that the insurgency can be fuelled, as well as contained, by the presence of foreign troops."

William Hague could just have easily said that the insurgency would be fuelled by signs of surrender from America and the impression of imminent withdrawal.  The Shadow Foreign Secretary could just easily have quoted Osama bin Laden: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse."  Mr Hague might also have reworked his powerful words from the Iraq debate of March 2003: "Last night, one hon. Member—I think it was a Liberal Democrat—said that we should not take this action because of the danger of terrorist or other retaliatory action against this country. There is a similarity to the phoney war in 1940, when the commanders in charge of the great guns of the Maginot line—we all know who was in charge—refused to fire those guns in case the Germans fired back. But of course the Germans were always going to fire back, and terrorist organisations that have the capability to hit this country will try in any event to hit this country. Our job is to deter them from doing so and remove their means of doing so."

William Hague today: "We would like to have seen a package modelled more closely on the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, giving even greater importance to accelerating the training and equipping of the Iraqi Army, and establishing an International Support Group of members of the UNSC and other nations to help the Iraqi government."

The Baker-Hamilton plan that William Hague endorses was a deeply disappointing document.  It was a split-the-difference report that recommended engagement with Syria and Iran.  As John McCain wrote at the time: "Our interests in Iraq diverge significantly from those of Damascus and Tehran, and this is unlikely to change under the current regimes. I do not object to reasonable efforts that might modify these countries’ behavior in Iraq, but if the price of their cooperation is an easing of pressure on Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, or on Damascus over the Syrian role in Lebanon, then that price is too high."

William Hague today: "Additionally, we would have like to have seen an emphasis on the urgent need to find a way of re-starting the Middle East Peace Process."

There are lots of good reasons to restart the MEPP but William Hague is wrong to link the Iraq situation to it.  Senator McCain again: "It is impossible to see how such a peace can be achieved so long as Hamas, a terrorist group that rejects a two-state solution and the very existence of Israel, stands at the helm of the Palestinian Authority. We must not push our Israeli ally to make concessions to groups that refuse to recognize its right to exist. In addition, the linkage the ISG report makes between this issue and the violence in Iraq seems tenuous at best. While I desire peace for Israel in its own right, it is difficult to see how an Arab-Israeli peace process will diminish Sunni-Shia violence in Baghdad or al Qaeda activity in Anbar Province."

Mr Hague could also study something his former policy chief Danny Finkelstein wrote in November: "The existence of so many dictatorships, kleptocracies and violent thugs in the Middle East is what drives on the conflict, in Israel, as elsewhere. The Palestinian crisis and the tragedy of the poor Palestinian people is an effect, an outcome, not a cause."

William Hague today: "Like the government, we hope that a substantial number of British troops can be withdrawn from Basra in the course of this year, but we will be pressing the Government to establish this year a full-scale enquiry into the Iraq conflict, which the country expects to see.  The most vital step now is for the Iraqi Government now to push forward internal reconciliation and the building up of its own effective Armed Forces, so that they can take genuine control of their own affairs.”

The building up of effective Iraqi armed forces and police must surely be a priority but the British troops are also playing a vital role in ensuring that rogue elements that have entered the security forces are eliminated.  British troops should not be withdrawn according to any artificial timetable but only when their job is done.  Calling for a full-scale enquiry smells of politics.  A party preparing for government – particularly a party that wants to guard its reputation for national security – should be helping the British public to understand that we risk the creation of new terrorist cells in Iraq if UK troops are withdrawn too quickly.

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