Defence

Intervention

I have spent most of my adult life working on, and in, interventions. I began as a junior diplomat with East Timor, served in the Balkans and in Iraq, then spent a few years in Afghanistan. But none of this made me feel I could predict the future of Libya as I entered Tripoli in August. There were echoes of Baghdad in the masked men holding on to truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns and shouting Allahu Akbar at an angry crowd outside the bank. Was this the prelude to a sudden flurry of looting, then, after a few months, sullen resentment, riots, roadside bombs and rockets falling into the foreign compounds? Would Libya, like the Iraq or Afghan interventions, eventually suck in billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and achieve little more than trauma, corruption and insecurity?

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The ‘Good War’ Isn’t Worth Fighting

First published in the New York Times on 23 November 2008. Afghanistan does not matter as much as Barack Obama thinks. Terrorism is not the key strategic threat facing the United States. America, Britain and our allies have not created a positive stable environment in the Middle East. We have no clear strategy for dealing […]

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What We Can Do

First published in the New York Times, 27 March 2007 We must acknowledge the limits of our power and knowledge in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and concentrate on what is achievable. The question is not “What ought we to do?” but “What can we do?” This is rarely discussed. When I ask politicians whether we can defeat […]

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The Value of Their Values

 First published in The New York Times, March 7, 2007. I began my career as a Foreign Service officer in Indonesia. There, journalists, diplomats and aid workers emphasized that local government was “incompetent, inefficient and corrupt.” I heard the same when working in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. My colleagues often seemed contemptuous of the […]

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Losing the South

First published in Prospect Magazine, 1 November, 2005. Is southern Iraq only hell with flies? September’s image of a British soldier bathed in flames as he tumbled from his tank seemed to symbolise a state of anarchy, spawned by the coalition and dominated by Iranian-funded terrorist militias. The reality is less bleak, but still unsettling. […]