Talking Politics
  • What can Iraq teach us about Libya?

    As Libya approaches a new dawn we must appreciate that some things will go wrong, but there is an advisory role for foreign powers to fulfil.

    By Gerard Russell

    Lessons have clearly been learned from Iraq for post-Gaddafi Libya. They will have been passed on, not least, by the British envoy to the Libyan rebels - John Jenkins, who was ambassador in Baghdad before going to Benghazi. The National Transition Council's blueprint for preserving order in a post-Gaddafi Tripoli appears designed precisely to stave off the kind of anarchy that prevailed in Baghdad in 2003. Though it has not so far succeeded, that is not for want of thought and planning.

    This, of course, is the danger of all lessons learned after an event: simply knowing what went wrong last time does not mean that it can be done the next time around. Events happen rapidly and chaotically, and the parties involved are not necessarily going to stick to any plan that has been given them.

    We can be sure, in short, that other things

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  • Who are the Libya rebels?

    Mustafa Abdul Jalil took to the stage yesterday to give the international press some information about his force's remarkably successful advance on Tripoli. With a backdrop of pre-Gaddafi Libyan flags and a small army of translators to hand, he seemed every inch the future leader in waiting. But his insistence that Colonel Gaddafi's sons were under arrest will have come back to haunt him last night, after a confident Saif al-Islam pulled up to a hotel full of journalists and took them on a tour of Gaddafi-controlled Tripoli.

    With that incident calling the reliability of the National Transitional Council (NTC) into question and continued criticism of its haphazard military strategy, many observers are starting to ask searching questions of the body ready to take over from Gaddafi. Who exactly are the rebels and what do they want?

    The need for a new body to provide a political face to the fighting in Libya derived from the total lack of civil society in the country. After 41 years of

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  • Is Libya Cameron’s Falklands?

    Margaret Thatcher was heading for the door before the Falklands war, but after a widely supported, morally coherent and ultimately successful military campaign she was enjoying approval ratings that were through the roof. It saw her through 11 years in office.

    David Cameron's assured performance in front of Downing Street this morning, complete with fitting sunshine and an impressed press pack, suggested the current prime minister might dream of similar results given events in Libya.

    "This has not been our revolution but we can be proud we played our part," Cameron said, in a remark which defined the cautious but optimistic tone he adopted throughout the statement.

    It was sensible to do so. Gaddafi is still technically in power, although no-one seriously believes he can maintain it. More relevantly, long dictatorships often tend to be followed by ethnic, religious, tribal or political bloodshed when they eventually fall apart. Libya's complex tribal system has all the potential to

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  • Now that Tony Blair finally offered his two pennies worth, we have a full house of political leaders' views on the riots that hit England this month.

    Blair's piece on the disorder has been reported mostly in terms of how it deviates from David Cameron's thoughts, but their proscriptions are deceptively similar, in that both men treat the riots as a vindication of their existing views.

    "By the end of my time as prime minister, I concluded that the solution was specific and quite different from conventional policy," Blair writes, citing his 'respect' agenda policies and a version of early intervention programmes. "The agenda that came out of this was conceived in my last years of office, but it had to be attempted against a constant backdrop of opposition, left and right, on civil liberty grounds and on the basis we were 'stigmatising' young people. After I'd left, the agenda lost momentum."

    Plainly Blair's miracle solution to the deep-seated social and economic problems in English

    Read More »from Cowardice defines our response to the riots
  • Britain's fevered post-riot mood is creating a rush for justice which does no-one any good.

    Our response to the riots is like a dog chasing after its own tail: a lot of mad, frenetic yelping, that just ends up going around in circles with no meaningful positive effect whatsoever.

    Reduced to its bare essentials, this was all very predictable. If you were to ask someone a few months ago what would happen if, hypothetically, mass disorder was to break out - and succeeded in persuading them that it wasn't anything to do with spending cuts - they would have predicted the political fallout we've seen this week with ease.

    The prime minister reverts to his party's authoritarian instincts on law and order, embracing harsh sentences for all those involved. The Liberal Democrats, after a bit of hand-wringing, begin to speak out against these steps, but don't have much impact. That's about where we are now, isn't it? No surprises, just yet.

    Anger has certainly shaped public debate about how to

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  • Don’t let the police off the hook

    Criticise the police and many people close their ears. You can see why. British police probably are, ultimately, the best in the world. In the same way that we return home from holiday full of appreciation for the BBC, Brits in Europe and America quickly come to appreciate the moderation and humility of our police force.

    This did not occur because the British are somehow innately superior. It happened because we hound the police. We criticise them, we regulate them and we monitor them. The police are the most dangerous thing in the world. They are the mechanism the state uses to interfere with what you do. They are to be tolerated, not loved. It's by vigilance, not praise, that we keep them decent.

    Our reaction to the riots has been understandably draconian and with that a newfound respect for the Met has developed. The Met leadership can be a canny political operator when it wants to be and that pro-police sentiment - in parliament, the press and among the public - is starting to

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  • The two speeches yesterday morning not only signalled the end of the cross-party truce over the riots; they also laid out dramatically different political approaches to last week's disorder.

    With the violence now died down, David Cameron's speech mostly consisted of arguing that pre-existing government policy would undo the causes of the disorder. In other areas, however, the prime minister signalled a distinct turning to the right, suggesting that the uneasy truce between Conservatives and Lib Dems on social issues may be at an end.

    Meanwhile, Ed Miliband made a distinct break from the Conservatives' approach, offering a robust left-wing alternative to Cameron's agenda while maintaining a tough-on-the-causes-of-crime sentiment which he hopes will keep him on the right side of the tabloids.

    Cameron's fight-back speech

    "Let's be clear. These riots were not about race… these riots were not about government cuts… and these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people

    Read More »from Cameron and Miliband’s riot speeches: Reading between the lines
  • Getty Images

    It's at moments like this that we realise quite how unpopular Britain is around the world. But we shouldn't let that blind ourselves to genuine, useful criticism.

    Forget the football hooligans, or our closeness to the United States, or any of the other reasons the global community has had to wrinkle their noses whenever the British are mentioned.

    Now the world's leaders and the press amplifying their views have a whole new reason to pour scorn on the UK. Last week's violence have prompted a mass outbreak of schadenfreude.

    We spend so much time wringing our hands about the terrible events taking place in other parts of the world, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised when the tables are turned.

    It's the countries Britain is most critical of - China, Russia and Iran - which are the most critical in response.

    You'd expect it from Iran, whose state-run Irna news agency has published story after story revelling in the disorder.

    Whether raising concerns that UK Muslims could come under attack

    Read More »from England riots: World’s scorn conceals some home truths
  • Recalled MPs tried their best to suppress the urge to make party political points. They almost succeeded.

    It's mid-August. At this time of year the Commons chamber is usually full of hordes of schoolchildren on tours of parliament. Not much of a difference from when MPs are around, you might say. For most of the time, that didn't apply today.

    It wasn't a rabble of partisan politicians, keen to heckle and barrack each other, who assembled this lunchtime. Instead, the Commons was at its best once again as politicians confronted the riots of recent days.

    The prime minister began with a statement. It contained many "today I can announce" beginnings of sentences, the kind which litter party conference speeches and often precede something we've heard before. Today, steps to help businesses and families hit by the riots looked like they would make a real difference.

    Cameron repeated his "fightback" rhetoric from yesterday. Ed Miliband stood up and agreed with almost everything he said. Yet

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  • Cameron has handled the riots well

    It would have been easy to over-react and Labour probably would have.

    On Monday there were plenty of voices calling for a curfew, rubber bullets, water cannons, live rounds and, finally, the army. It was a level of disorder we'd frankly never seen before. It looked almost apocalyptic. The speed of events, their geographical distance, the ferocity of the violence and the depth of the depravity shook all of us. Many people became understandably over-excited.

    Historical counterfactuals are a thankless task, but Labour would probably have overreacted. The party is so wary of being vulnerable on law and order that the temptation would have been to give in to those demanding extreme sanction. After all, David Blunkett, who now pretends to be a harmless old man, once tried to send the army in to quell a minor prison riot. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both so panicked by the tabloids they would have been more scared of appearing soft than they were of tearing up constitutional arrangements

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