This House believes Britain's role in the Middle East is in terminal decline

Monday November 26 2007
Cambridge Union Society, Cambridge, UK

MOTION REJECTED by 32% to 68%

Transcript

Order of speeches

This House believes Britain's role in the Middle East is in terminal decline

 

Introduction

TIM SEBASTIAN
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and a warm welcome to this very special session of the Doha Debates sponsored by the Qatar Foundation.† As you can see, we've left our normal home in the Gulf to come to the UK and to the world-famous Cambridge Union founded almost 200 years ago.† The Union takes its members from Cambridge University which hasn't always looked kindly on its activities.† In the 1800's, the university authorities tried to shut it down, claiming it was among other things, 'a waste of time'.† Tonight we'll try not to live down to their worst expectations.† British policy in the Middle East has taken a battering in recent times with the endless bloodshed in Iraq, stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians, and the government's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in last year's conflict in Lebanon.† So does Britain merely follow where America leads or does it have an independent and useful role to play in the region, in other words a key player or a rapidly fading star?† Our motion tonight is, 'This house believes that Britain's role in the Middle East is in terminal decline,' and we have some high level guests to debate it.† Speaking for the motion, Shlomo Ben-Ami.† He's a former foreign minister of Israel who served in office between 2000 and 2001.† He took part in a number of important peace talks including the final Camp David Summit and is now co-chair of the Toledo International Centre for Peace based in Spain.† With him, Baroness Falkner of Margravine.† She's the first Muslim peer for the Liberal Democrats and speaks widely on issues relating to Muslim integration and multiculturalism.† Two years ago, she joined the Prime Minister's task force on tackling Muslim extremism.† Speaking against the motion, Raghida Dergham, columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for the London-based Arabic Daily Al-Hayat.† She is also retained as a political analyst by NBC, MSNBC, and the Arab satellite channel LBC, but somehow found time to join us this evening.† And with her Sir Malcolm Rifkind.† He served for two years as Britain's Foreign Secretary in the mid-90's.† He was also Defence Secretary, Secretary of State for Scotland, and Transport Minister.† He's currently M.P. for the peaceful constituency of Kensington & Chelsea, but speaks widely on the Middle East and other areas of conflict.† Ladies and gentlemen, our panel.† So now let me call first on Shlomo Ben-Ami to speak for the motion please.

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Shlomo Ben-Ami

Speaking for the motion
Shlomo Ben-Ami

SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Thank you.† My first point is obvious, yet needs to be mentioned, and it has to do with the nature of historical process.† The decline of Britain is a phenomenon that started in the wake of the Second World War and it continued until this very day in the Middle East.† The major assignments of a superpower that is protecting the oil supplies in the region and having a leverage on the political elite has been taken over by the United States inevitably.† I think that nothing reflects better the clout of the Americans in the region than Annapolis.† Even after the debacle in Iraq, it is only America that is capable of bringing all the Arab leaders, practically all the Arab leaders, to Annapolis to try and launch an Israeli peace process.† My second point has to do with Iraq.† I think that Iraq reflected and at the same time enhanced the decline of Britain in the region.† Britain came to the war with an inflated sense of its military and political capabilities.† It was unable to bridge the gap that opened between America and its European allies.† That was its natural mission, being the European power just as a friend of the United States, it failed in that, and it became true that its military role in the region in the war was dispensable.† Now, the outcome of that was that Britain's reputation in the region was tarnished very, very seriously, and it lost its capacity to be a force for good or for change in that part of the world.† One example is the fact that the major peace-keeping operation the Europeans have deployed in the Middle East, UNIFIL 2, Britain is absent because it would have been seen as illegitimate in the eyes of the Arabs that Britain should play a role.† My third point has to do with Britain's role in peace-making in the region.† In the major conflicts Israel/Palestine, Israel/Syria/Lebanon, Turkey/Kurdistan, Britain is practically absent.† There is no British leverage on these major conflicts in the region.† Sir Nigel Sheinwald visited Damascus a month ago and the British move which is commendable was practically stopped by the Americans.† That is, perhaps Britain has some influence through trade, economic exchanges, etc. etc., but everybody in that part of the world has a slice of influence.† The question is, who makes a difference, a real difference in conflict resolution, in peace-making, in peace-keeping, and in all these chapters I think that Britain is evidently in a decline.† Thank you.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Shlomo Ben-Ami, thank you very much indeed.† You criticise Britain, but who's done any better?† Your country hasn't been so good at making peace in the region, has it, for 55 years.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
You are right but we are talking about external powers.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Well, we're talking about effectiveness of diplomacy, aren't we?† Britain has tried.† Who's tried harder?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Well, where did Britain try in the Israeli/Palestinian process?
TIM SEBASTIAN
It tries, it keeps stressing the need for a two-state solution, it keeps backing the Palestinians, it keeps paying the Palestinians' salaries, it keeps trying to support institutions, the building of institutions.† You have Tony Blair out there at the moment trying to build institutions with the Palestinians.† Who's doing more, who's doing more?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
The United States obviously.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Well, not to much effect.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Annapolis.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Have they made peace in the last 55 years, the United States?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Well, they have tried, they have tried.† Clinton came as close as one can imagine.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So Britain has tried too.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Obviously it doesn't have the same amount of power.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But it's stuck to principles.† Your country may not like them, some of the principles, but it's stuck to them, hasn't it.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Tim, this is a very tough area, and in that area you cannot come only with good ideas, you need to be able to intimidate.† Just inspiration will not ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Intimidate?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Yes.† Inspiration without intimidation will not work.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Would you say that was what your country indulged in, intimidation?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Yes, yes, it did, that's the only thing in that part of the world, they don't give a second chance to the defeated and they have no mercy on the weak.† That's a reality.† Now you need, nobody has, including us, I'm not trying to pass the problem to the others, what I want to say here is that the only way to solve the problem, and not only this particular problem, many other problems, is if you are able to merge soft power with the capacity to twist arms, and only the United States has that capacity.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But even with that capacity it hasn't been very successful, has it?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
It made peace between Israel and Egypt, it supported the Oslo process, it helped make peace between Israel and Jordan.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Yes, but you haven't had a night of security in 55 years in Israel.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Well, I think this is an obsession of the Israelis that will never come to be a reality.† There is no such a thing as absolute security, and therefore I think that we will have to come to terms with the difficulties of reconciling peace and security.

TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, Shlomo Ben-Ami, thank you very much indeed.† Now let me ask please Raghida Dergham to speak against the motion.

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Raghida Dergham

Speaking against the motion
Raghida Dergham

RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Yes, I speak against the motion because I think the term 'terminal decline' does not apply to the United Kingdom's policy in the Middle East, influence over the Middle East.† That is because it's a matter of choice that the British government have decided to either exercise that influence in certain measures or not to exercise it at all.† When we say 'terminal decline', that means that the UK has no options, it's outside of their hands.† This is not the case.† The United Kingdom does have influence.† How it choose to use it, that's another issue.† Secondly, I'd like to say that the United Kingdom is and was influencing the region in many different ways.† It depends if you want to call it good or bad.† I don't think the discussion right now, whether it's good influence or bad influence, basically you could say that the Balfour promise made 90 years ago that promised Israel their state in Palestine was the legacy of the United Kingdom.† That's not a very welcome legacy in the Arab World or in the Muslim World.† The same thing you can say, recently in participating in the Iraq War, some could argue that this was terribly an influential role by the United Kingdom, not a welcome one by some.† Thirdly, on Palestine, Tony Blair is building or helping build institutions, and that is no minor thing.† This is an important contribution because this is about building the state of Palestine, and that is a great contribution that the United Kingdom is doing through Tony Blair.† Number four, I think Iran is a very important issue where the United Kingdom played a very leading role, I would argue, because they went ahead and were the architect of collective diplomacy towards the Iranians.† There is the three plus three, all of you know the three plus three equation, the one that speaks of diplomacy including sanctions and the jury is still out right now whether the United Kingdom will go ahead and succeed in this diplomacy or whether it will have to take a position, and yet be influential if there is a military option.† Quickly on Lebanon, listen, the United Kingdom is a permanent member of the Security Council.† That means it has a lot of power to influence.† Lebanon is an international project and the United Kingdom is right now participating in establishing the first international tribunal, where the message to the whole Middle East would be, end of impunity.† Finally, a couple of things.† The UK is not an isolationist country.† It has commercial ties, economic ties with the Gulf States, it is quite influential in a very particular way with the EU who are part of the quartet on the Palestinian issue, and the fact that there is a very special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States gives the United Kingdom a very special kind of influence.† No, the influence of the United Kingdom in the Middle East is certainly not in terminal decline.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Raghida Dergham, thank you very much indeed.† You mentioned Britain's influence with the United States.† What did it produce?
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Well, whatever it has produced in the past, as I said, it could have been negative ....
TIM SEBASTIAN
Yes, but what did it produce?† Is there any evidence that it produced anything at all?
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
A partnership in the Security Council on resolutions for example towards Lebanon.† I think that has been a very important collective relationship there.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You mention Lebanon but actually Britain suffered the humiliation of being told by the United Nations to stay out of it, so important was its role in Lebanon.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
But nevertheless the UK goes on playing a role within the Security Council in producing the resolutions that are putting Lebanon on the right track with an international consensus, or at least to fight for it, so you can't dismiss the role that they've done on Lebanon.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Give me one example of anyone taking Britain seriously in the Middle East in the last three years.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Oh, I would say Iran takes the United Kingdom incredibly seriously.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Really?† In what way?† Such that they can pinch their soldiers off a little barge in the Shatt al-Arab waterway whenever they feel like it, is that taking Britain seriously?
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Yes, they do take Britain seriously, as I said, because there is a political process, a diplomatic process, that if the United Kingdom gives it up, then there is another obvious option towards Iran, military, and I think that Iran is paying very good attention to how the EU led by Britain, as I said, the architect through Jack Straw of that collective diplomacy, they pay a lot of attention to that.
TIM SEBASTIAN
We spoke to one Arab official before this debate started and his quote is this: 'You would have to go back several generations to find anyone in the Arab World who dealt with Britain as a major player.† Today when we pick up the phone at a crucial time, we talk to Washington.'
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
I have another quote from another senior politician.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Maybe you'd like to answer that one instead of playing quote games.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
This is the quote, yes:† 'We count on the sober analysis and the sober way the British look at issues in contract with whimsical political trends that influence others.'
TIM SEBASTIAN
Perhaps you'd like to answer my point first.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Say it again.
TIM SEBASTIAN
'You would have to go back generations to find anybody in an Arab government who takes Britain seriously.'
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
That's not true, I absolutely differ with that.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Raghida Dergham, thank you very much indeed.† Could we ask please Baroness Falkner to speak for the motion.

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Baroness Falkner

Speaking for the motion
Baroness Falkner

BARONESS FALKNER
Well, I think it's pretty obvious that Britain's role is in decline.† You know, we can quibble about the word 'terminal' or not but the decline is there.† Both history and current events point to that.† A notable historian described Britain's exit from the Middle East in terms of its colonial history as a country that was either kicked out, bowed out, or ran out.† Pretty ignominious, I think. And if you look at its recent interventions in the affairs of the region in the last 30 or 40 years, it has not been a player in terms of resolving the conflicts of the Middle East, as you said, it has not even in more recent times under liberal interventionism, Mr. Blair's proclaimed foreign policy, it has not even been able to promote democracy and Human Rights in that region.† If you look at the context where it had a negative influence rather than just being irrelevant, of course it intervened in Suez and we know what happened, it supported the wrong side, Saddam Hussein, in the war against Iran, and it gave us, if you cast your eye a little further afield to Afghanistan, it gave us the Taliban and more recently Osama Bin Laden.† These are the people that Britain's been on the side of.† Then if you come to the Iraq War, and you wouldn't expect me not to touch on the Iraq War, but if you come to the Iraq War which has caused enormous suffering, Britain has nominally been belligerent and been part of the problem there, but more than that, by backing a doctrine of pre-emptive intervention, what Britain has done is broken international law and therefore I think in perpetuity damaged its relationship of a United Nations Security Council as an honest broker.† Who's going to take Britain seriously when it wants to make peace anywhere in the world after it has acted in that kind of fashion flouting international law.† OK, so that's been hard power.† We'll come to soft power.† What does Britain do in terms of its diplomacy in aid and so on?† Britain is now one of the largest aid-donors in the world, no question about that, very proudly so.† In terms of the top 20 countries to which it gives aid, only one country in the region gets aid, and that is Iraq, and the cost to Britain of the Iraq War is £1 billion a year.† It has shamefully reduced its aid contribution to Iraq to a lousy £50 million this year, that's the soft power that it exercises.† Democracy and human rights?† It purports to claim that.† What does it do?† It lays out its best silver for the serial human rights abusers that are Saudi Arabia, only a few weeks ago.† So, you know, Britain lost an empire but it might have found a role if it had understood the developments afoot in the Middle East after it left.† It has not done so because it has been joined at the hip with the United States of America in its special relationship.† As a consequence of that, it is at best irrelevant, at worst incompetent, but in any event its decline is pretty irreversible.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Baroness Falkner, thank you very much indeed.† You said Britain hasn't been a player in the region.† Committing its troops to serve and die in Iraq is not the action of a player out there?
BARONESS FALKNER
It's a player on the wrong side.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Yes, but it's a player ...
BARONESS FALKNER
Yes.
TIM SEBASTIAN
... isn't it, a big player, using soft power and hard power, what more hard power than committing British troops to Iraq?
BARONESS FALKNER
For those of us who take an interest in the Middle East and care about what happens to our boys and girls, the role that we would like Britain to have in the Middle East is not to squander our youth in a cause where they are caught between a rock and a hard place.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You say it doesn't stand up for human rights.† It continually stands up for human rights.† It continually criticises abuses on both sides in Israel and Palestine, continually.† It raises issues with the Israeli government, with the Palestinian leadership time and time again.† Who else does that?
BARONESS FALKNER
You can come up with the rhetoric.
TIM SEBASTIAN
No, but Baroness Falkner, who else does that?† Who else does this?
BARONESS FALKNER
Can I answer your question?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Please do.
BARONESS FALKNER
You can criticise from afar.† Rhetoric, talk is cheap.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But who else is doing it?
BARONESS FALKNER
I asked a question in the House of Lords two or three weeks ago before the Saudi visit, actually giving instances of human rights abuses.† I was reassured by the Minister that these would be mentioned in that Saudi royal visit.† The last day of the royal visit you have the Saudi Foreign Minister who was asked from Sky News by Tim Marshall, 'Did anyone in the British government mention human rights abuses to you?'† 'No,' Prince Saud says, 'Not at all.'† That didn't come up.† We don't discuss those kinds of things with the Prince, so you know, please.
TIM SEBASTIAN
And what about aid, what about aid, you're talking about a lack of aid.† £500 million has been offered for Palestinian development conditional on progress towards peace, 500 million.† £100 million over the next five years to UN agencies in the occupied territories, an additional £15 million for the temporary international mechanism.† You're saying that Britain doesn't contribute?† Britain does contribute, it operates.†
BARONESS FALKNER
What you're probably talking about is humanitarian assistance but what you're also talking about in terms of Palestine is the aid that goes through the bodies, goes through the EU.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
What I'm saying, these are not the actions of a country whole influence is in terminal decline, is it?
BARONESS FALKNER
I'm talking about Britain's direct leverage with the Middle East, which I think it should exercise.† Britain is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it should be putting its money where its mouth is.† It's spending a billion pounds a year on the Iraq War.
TIM SEBASTIAN
And that's not enough?
BARONESS FALKNER
No.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, Baroness Falkner, thank you very much indeed.† Now please can I ask Sir Malcolm Rifkind to speak against the motion.

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Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Speaking against the motion
Sir Malcolm Rifkind

SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
I've listened very carefully to the two proposers of the motion.† They are missing the point.† First of all this is not a debate about whether one supports or opposes British foreign policy.† I am an opposition politician, I don't support much of current British foreign policy, certainly not the war in Iraq. Nor is it a debate, I may say it Mr. Ben-Ami, about whether Britain is as powerful as the United States.† Of course it is not.† It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise.† It is whether the United Kingdom continues to have influence in the region, and in arguing that it does, I don't just make a general proposition, I will give you hard evidence.† Take for example the historic decision of Colonel Gaddafi to renounce nuclear weapons.† That wasn't just the United States.† The United Kingdom was actively involved at the request of the Libyans in the very sensitive negotiations that eventually led to the breakthrough and Libya's renunciation of nuclear weapons and its acceptance into the community as a whole.† Take the efforts we all wish to see succeed to avoid military action against Iran.† That will only happen if there is successful negotiation with Iran.† Who has been invited to lead these negotiations?† Britain, France and Germany, so far without the success we want to see, but they are seen as the key countries.† The British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, who I criticise as much as anyone, but who is invited by the contact group to be the spokesman for the United States, for the G9, for the European Union in trying to work for its support in the region, none less than the British Prime Minister.† We have about a quarter of a million British citizens living in the Middle East, working there.† We have hundreds of thousands of citizens of Arab countries in London and in the United Kingdom.† That is not simply to do each other a favour, that is because there is a degree of mutual interest that is of crucial importance.† So I say to this motion that is before us, not that Britain is a power in the region, of course we're not.† We haven't been a power in the region for 50 years, but in terms of influence, who other than the United States outside the region itself has some significant influence with the countries of the region, with Saudi Arabia, with Oman, with the Gulf States, with Kuwait, perhaps with Israel, you know better than I do, but certainly with many of the countries in the region, it is the United Kingdom with whom we have an active dialogue and that is something which indicates influence is there, it's continuing and it's important.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, thank you very much indeed, and in a moment I'm going to throw the questions open to the floor, but first to some of the points that you've raised.† You mention Tony Blair's role with the quartet as evidence that Britain is not declining, its influence is not declining.† Last year you wrote, 'Now we have Blair trying to forge a meaningful British policy in the Lebanon crisis, his reputation as Bush's poodle is making that all but impossible.'
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Yes, indeed.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
So it's not much of a role that he's got with the quartet if he's Bush's poodle, is it?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Well, no, the curious thing, and it is a curious thing, is that despite the controversy, despite the criticism, as soon as Mr. Blair resigned as British Prime Minister, who did the United States ask, who did the Russians, the European Union and other countries ask ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
After reducing his role to that of an errand boy.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
That was their judgment, that wasn't just the United States, that was also the other players, many of whom have been very critical of Mr. Blair's foreign policy, and yet it is a British former Prime Minister whom they invite to speak on their behalf.† That is a very decisive and very interesting conclusion they reached.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You say that Iraq has almost disintegrated and Britain obviously has a role in that.† Any country that brings about a situation where Iraq has virtually disintegrated, with 100,000 Iraqi lives lost, two million Iraqis have become refugees in fear of their lives - I'm quoting from what you've said - and Iran has become the hegemonic power in the region, any country that's brought all that about has to be looking at terminal decline in its influence.†† Those are pretty serious problems, aren't they?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
In that case you're suggesting United States is in terminal decline.
TIM SEBASTIAN
It may well be but we're talking about Britain as well.† Britain has a share in this, Britain is an occupying power in Iraq.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
I don't doubt that and I share the criticisms, but the point we are discussing is whether the mistakes that have been made in Iraq by itself therefore produced terminal decline.† Now, no-one is seriously arguing, none of the proposers of this motion are suggesting the United States does not have influence in the Middle East because of the gross mistakes it made in Iraq.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
Yes, but there are different criteria for a super power and different criteria for Britain.† Who's going to trust Britain after it has failed so signally to live up to its obligations in Iraq as an occupying power?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Well, clearly Saudi Arabia does, because of the defence relationship we have with Saudi Arabia, clearly the United Arab Emirates does because we have a defence relationship with them.† Clearly Libya does.
TIM SEBASTIAN
They just want to buy their arms, they buy arms from other permanent members of the Security Council.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
They have lots of reasons but the important point that I'm entitled to make is that if the United Kingdom is irrelevant, in terminal decline, then they would look to other countries in order to have the prime relationship.† The fact is, they have a prime relationship with the United States.† After the United States, I challenge you to say which country other than the United Kingdom has more influence.
TIM SEBASTIAN
They invest in our arms industries, of course they are going to buy our arms.† They don't want the share price falling any more than anybody else.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
There is no shortage of countries from whom you might wish to buy arms if you wish to do so.† If they have chosen the United Kingdom, that is because not only do they believe that what we are selling is relevant to their requirements, but also because there is a trusting relationship and a relationship which has been close and intimate for perhaps 50 years.

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Audience questions

Audience questionTIM SEBASTIAN
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, thank you very much indeed.† I'm going to throw the questions open to the floor, so I'd like to see your hands please.† Gentleman in the front row there.

AUDIENCE Q (M)
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My question is for the proposition side, especially for the Baroness.† Actually you mentioned Afghanistan, that the British rule is in terminal decline in Afghanistan, as we have seen Britain is sending troops to Afghanistan and the troops are spreading out throughout Afghanistan and that troops will or might spread out to other countries as well, so how do you claim that British rule is declining in Afghanistan?
BARONESS FALKNER
Well, of course, I didn't say British rule was declining in Afghanistan, I said Britain was on the wrong side of the argument in having armed the Mujahedin that became the Taliban that led to the mess which is Afghanistan, and what Britain really did wrong there was to walk away from it.† It set up with the CIA, it set up these people, it armed them to the teeth to get rid of the Russians, but it didn't stay the course, and that's what in that quote I told you about being kicked out, bow out or run out, that's what Britain does.† It doesn't stay the course, and that's why we have the disaster that is Afghanistan, but not just Afghanistan, a near failed state in Pakistan because of that particular problem.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But it is staying the course in Afghanistan, isn't it? British troops are still in Afghanistan.
BARONESS FALKNER
We hope so, we hope so.† I mean, the big concern in Afghanistan, and I know Afghanistan well, I spent my youth there, the big concern when I speak to Afghanis is, will ISAF walk out when things get rough, and things are going to get rough, and we know that the other partners are not pulling their weight.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Yes, but we are talking about the current condition in Afghanistan.† They were taking some projects regarding poppy eradication in Afghanistan ...
BARONESS FALKNER
Poppy cultivation has gone up.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
... so they are involved in so many projects.
BARONESS FALKNER
But poppy cultivation has gone up.† The drugs trade is actually doing better in Helmand Province than it was last year.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Doing better, but they are trying to increase their efforts to eradicate the drugs in Afghanistan, the poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, so they're increasing their role in Afghanistan so ...
BARONESS FALKNER
They're trying to improve.† The question is will they stay the course?
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, let's take another question.† Gentleman in the third row, you sir.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Good evening.† This is another question to the proposition.† Britain is a major purchaser of oil, we're a big seller of armaments.† We're also leaders in the scientific community worldwide, and major leaders in the environmental movement, so what influence can we have if we help to reduce the world's dependence on oil?† Thank you.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Shlomo Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Well, that will be a major influence, no doubt about it, if indeed alternative energies will emerge as a substitute for what we see today as the hegemony of oil-polluting countries but it seems to me that first neither is Britain at the forefront of this effort, nor do I see that in the foreseeable future we are going to witness a dramatic shift from the focus of power that is now displayed by the countries of the Gulf. It's evident that it will take so many years, and in the long run we'll all be dead.† I think we are talking about the foreseeable future, I don't see that changing.
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
Do you feel that Britain projects useful influence in the region?
AUDIENCE Q (M)
You mean environmentally?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Environmentally or in any other way.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
My personal view is that we do but we aren't necessarily exercising it in the right way.† If I might come back very briefly, the time-scale for the world needing to top its dependence on oil is perhaps 20 to 30 years.† Whether we succeed is another matter, but it is a fairly urgent issue and we may do so in our life-time.
BARONESS FALKNER
Could I say that of course what will change the environmental debate will be, apart from consuming less, is to develop new technologies, and the two countries that are leading the field in developing new technology, one is of course pre-eminently the United States where the new technology conversely is coming out, but also in Europe it's Germany that is leading the field in new technology, not Britain.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, let's see if we can have a question for this side of the House, we want them to earn their dinner tonight.† Question for this side of the House.† Lady in the second row.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
Hello.† My question is for the opposition team. Since you strongly believe in Britain's role in the Middle East, don't you think that it would be better for Britain to maybe really care about and be more constructive and use its strong and growing Muslim base made up of millions and growing, to help out instead of just going for the oil or being Bush's poodle, as Tim said, or blindly following the US, putting those relations on top of everything, regardless of all the destruction that that's causing in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as ignoring the suffering of Palestinians which many people in the Middle East actually feel Britain is usually responsible for?
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, OK.† There are a lot of issues that you've raised.† Let's ask Sir Malcolm to come in here.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Well, I think the United Kingdom does recognise that the proper relationship with the countries of the Middle East must not simply be a political or a military one, it must also be a very serious contribution to the economic help that many of these areas require.† The moderator himself mentioned the £500 million that the United Kingdom has pledged to the Palestinians as part of the overall peace process.† Now, that is direct help from the United Kingdom.† On top of that, the United Kingdom as part of the European Union is involved in very massive aid for Palestinians that's going on as we speak, both in Gaza and on the West Bank, so there is a recognition that economic support is a very vital contribution that the countries of Europe as a whole can make, and the United Kingdom is one of the leading players in that way.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Shlomo Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Nobody denies that England is a major donor in the Middle East, but the problem is political.† You see, you need to gauge the meaning of where do the Palestinians stand right now. †They are not in the process of imitating Jean Monnet (who has been called the Father of the European Community).† They are not in the process of economic development, although economic development will always be very important.† They are in the process of state building, they are in the middle of a war of independence, and the only one that can make a difference here is Israel and the United States.† All the other players are relegated to secondary or third positions.† This is the simple reality, and when you speak about Tony Blair in terms of institution building, I can tell you from first-hand knowledge, the Palestinians are not happy with that at all.† They don't need advisers for institution building.† They need supporters for the creation of a Palestinian state.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Shlomo, you've just proved our case.† You've said that compared to the United States, Britain's relegated to second place.† Of course we are.† Who has ever suggested otherwise?† There is one United States which is not a super power, it's a super-duper power.††† The rest of us inevitably are in second place.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
It is a hyper power, but when you address the problem of who is first and second, you need to divide the Middle East in different areas.† Take Lebanon, for example.† Is Britain important in the process of Lebanon?† The French, the Italians, even the Spaniards are more important in Lebanon.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Yes, do you know why?† The reason we haven't troops in UNIFIL, we ran out of troops, we've got so many in Afghanistan and Iraq.† There are none left to send to Lebanon.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Raghida Dergham, please, come in here.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
To say that it's only the United States and Israel who would have the right and influence to affect the situation in Palestine, or who do, is to exclude others, which is a very necessary contribution, to have others come in and help in these negotiations.† I think if you leave the Palestinians to the United States and Israel alone, they'll never see their state.† Therefore it is very important to have the United Kingdom on its own, together with the EU, within the quartet, in the international arena, helping out, finally, finally, I mean, the controls of peace in the Middle East are very clear.† The UK needs to exercise its influence.† I think you said something to that effect that the UK has influence but it needs to exercise it.† The way to exercise it in my view towards Israel is to say, 'We can't give you blanket support and you'll just go unaccounted for whatever you do.'† There's a road map to two-state solution, the Israelis have got to deliver and the United Kingdom can pressure the Israelis together with the EU and alone, and there are tools to do so, that's where that influence needs to be go.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, Baroness Falkner, you wanted to come in.
BARONESS FALKNER
But Tim, there's influence and there's influence.† Sir Malcolm says that he opposed the Iraq War but he clearly didn't have enough influence in his party, because the party voted for the war, so you can have influence but it may come to nothing, the influence you have.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Somehow I thought that was going to arise in this discussion.
BARONESS FALKNER
It may be entirely ephemeral, but you're talking about influence.† In terms of Britain's role in the quartet, we know that not only the Palestinians, other Arabs were very concerned about Mr. Blair's role, we know that, but we also know that the EU was also very concerned, so Mr. Blair has been put there due to his influence in Washington.

RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Baroness, may I just tell you something.† I've just been in touch with very high-ranking Palestinians who are very involved in the building of institutions, and let me tell you, they understand clearly the importance of building institutions because it's about building the state of Palestine.† That is incredibly important, and Baroness, I hear you coming here to criticise the British policy, it's your right, but I thought we are coming here to debate whether the United Kingdom has influence to exercise, or has its influence been in terminal decline, so I think you have a right to criticise, it's your country much more than mine.† It's not policy, we're not discussing the policy necessarily.† We're saying, is there an influence and how is it used.
BARONESS FALKNER
How can you look at its role in the absence of looking at its foreign policy?
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
But it is not in terminal decline, Baroness, because as long as the United Kingdom, as long as the British government can decide to remain engaged or not to remain engaged, it is not out of its hand, it's not terminal decline.
BARONESS FALKNER
I'm very happy to concede that history will tell us whether the decline was terminal or not.† In the absence of foresight, we can only judge some way down the road whether the decline is terminal or not.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Sir Malcolm, do you want the last word?
BARONESS FALKNER
All I'm saying is, the trajectory is such that is may well be in terminal decline.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Let me just explain what we're trying to say.† Even the most severe critic of Israel would not say that Israel was in terminal decline because they thoroughly disapproved of Israeli policy.† Israel might still be very powerful, the United Kingdom might be powerful even if you disapprove of the way in which it exercises its power or its influence.
BARONESS FALKNER
Sir Malcolm, I've conceded that possibly the word terminal is slightly too strong.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Oh well, we're halfway there then.
BARONESS FALKNER
But the decline is pretty significant.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Halfway there, we're going to move on.† Lady in the third row.
Audience questionAUDIENCE Q (F)
Hi, good evening.† There's been a lot of conversation about the special relationship between the UK and the USA, and I was wondering if the proposition could let us now which is it?† Is it that the UK follows the USA like a poodle, or do we have a restraining hand on an over-zealous Washington administration?† Which is it?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Well, frankly I don't think that Britain being subservient to the Americans in the Iraq War has had any impact on Britain having a leverage in policy making in the region, and I'll give you several examples.† In the Foreign Affairs Committee recently, Simon McDonald who is a strategic adviser in Downing Street, it seems to me was asked what was the influence of Britain in bringing the United States to negotiate with Iranians over Iraq, and he said, 'Clearly we can't take credit for that.'† One.† Second, in the middle of the Iraq War, when President Bush issued a unilateral letter to (Israeli) Prime Minister Sharon pledging support for blocks of settlements and waiving entirely the question of the right of return for Palestinians, that was a unilateral letter that Britain obviously was not in favour of but of course could not stop it.† Take the Mecca Agreement.† I think that one of the major mistakes of the Europeans, the major mistakes of the Europeans, was not to oppose the Mecca Agreement.† Today we have a split Palestinian policy, a split Palestinian nation that makes Annapolis almost irrelevant, because at the end of the day, the Palestinian President will not be able to deliver precisely because the entire international community, Britain among them, did not support them.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You've got a really split Israel as well, haven't you?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
It's a reality, it is a reality, the coalition system, yes.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Baroness, in response to this very point, the fact of the matter are not policies about putting the issue of the State of Palestine on the table, whether any Israeli likes it or not, so let's not undermine the Palestinian Authority because it's always been an excuse by the Israelis, 'We do not have a partner to negotiate with.'† George W. Bush put out a vision and there was a very conscious effort and strategy to fail him at it.† You know what, Annapolis is about saying, 'To those who try to fail the vision taking shape, no, you did not win.'† We are in Annapolis to speak of the Palestinian state.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, let's just stick with British role here.† Baroness Falkner.
BARONESS FALKNER
You asked a very interesting question and it's of course a matter of cause and effect.† I would argue that because it is so closely aligned to the US, it has less leverage, and you know, were it more independent in the exercise of its foreign policy but most particularly in its role in the UN Security Council as a permanent member, then we might not ...† I've just come back from teaching a course at Harvard, the Kennedy School of Government. †The first thing when I arrived there and I was talking about democracy in the Muslim world, the first thing when I arrived there was all these academics, all these foreign policy experts at Harvard turned round to me and said, 'Why did Tony Blair support Bush?'† If Britain had stood aside, they felt that the US may not have gone in the way it did.† This was Americans telling me this.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You wanted to come back on this.† I'd like to hear from the questioner please.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
I mean, I agree with the gist of what you're saying but surely by following the United States, Britain has put itself in a position where it alone has the influence to say to Washington or whoever's there, whoever's there next, to say, 'Look, maybe this isn't the right way.'† Nobody else is getting through.
BARONESS FALKNER
Could I just say very briefly, I don't know if you saw The Blair Years last night, but you had the hubris of our former Prime Minister sitting there and saying to the interviewer about going into Iraq, he says, 'Did you expect us to behave like a middle-sized player on the sidelines doing nothing.'† He says, 'I wasn't going to stand for that.'† So the implication of that comment is that it wasn't on the merits of argument, it was in order to follow.† Now, Mr. Blair, we know from Clare Short's comments who resigned, the Cabinet Secretary who resigned over the Iraq War, we know from her that right up to the end, Mr. Blair thought that he would get something for the Middle East.† Well, he has become a technical expert, that's what he's become.† And we got, 'Did we get anything for the Middle East out of that adventure?'

TIM SEBASTIAN
All right.† We're going to take a question please from the gentleman in the front row there.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.† The proposition have mentioned about the presence of British during World War II in Iraq, and then they mentioned that during Saddam's war against Iran, also the British were supporting Saddam, so again we are having British involvement in Iraq, which is in the middle of the 20th century, and eventually British were involved in Iraq.† If †I'm seeing the British three times through the whole century at three different times whether this involvement is good or bad, isn't that a form of involvement?† This is one question.† The other question very quickly, and it's only because you are all here today, students from Cambridge, I would like to say what language am I talking right now?† It is English, so if I know that the second most popular language in the Middle East is actually English, then this is also an indirect kind of involvement.
TIM SEBASTIAN
And you are from ... ?
AUDIENCE Q (M)
I'm from Lebanon.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
OK, thank you.† Baroness Falkner.
BARONESS FALKNER
Well, of course we're speaking in English because English is the language spoken by the hyper power, the United States, as well as us, so that proves 300 million people who have a lot of power and influence speak English too, so that might be the reason that in the Middle East you're speaking English.† I've lived in the Middle East, including in Lebanon.† My mother is a graduate of your fine university, the American University of Beirut.† Shall I say, what you said about the Iraq involvement, I think that's a very serious point you make, and it may be involvement the way I'm interpreting and I think Mr. Ben-Ami is interpreting the question, that our role in the Middle East we want to see as a positive role.† You know, you can have an involvement in lots of things that are negative, and you can see that we're involved in Iraq, we're certainly involved.† I wouldn't say we're not, though it's not a positive role.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Can I comment on that if I may because I think Britain's at its best when it is close to the United States but not automatically agreeing with everything the United States does, and that has been the way in which most British Prime Ministers, before Tony Blair and probably Gordon Brown now, will operate.† Winston Churchill once said, 'You can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing after they've tried every other option.'† That may still be true.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
And when you were Foreign Secretary, how much did you have to toe the American line?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Oh, I'll tell you.† When I was a junior minister in the Foreign Office, the United States were threatening that United Kingdom and other European countries, we'd have sanctions imposed on them if we insisted on trading with the Soviet Union on their gas pipeline.† I was sent to Washington to talk to Kenneth Dam who was the American Deputy Secretary.† Eventually we reached a compromise, me and Kenneth Dam.† The only thing we couldn't agree was whether it would be called the Rifkind-Dam Agreement or the Dam-Rifkind Agreement.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
Raghida Dergham.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
On Iraq, because you know, I happened to be based at the United Nations and I followed all the negotiations that took place on the invasion of Iraq.† I'll tell you, Baroness, it's not fair to say that the British did not try to stop this train going to war.† I think the mistake, and history will tell us later, but I think the British policy-makers banked on Colin Powell rather than the Pentagon, and the Pentagon won over Colin Powell and the British argument, so there was an attempt, I'm not giving that as an excuse to say in the final analysis, you know, the buck stops with the decision-makers, but there was an attempt to influence the direction by trying to ease up the drive for war, and banking on Colin Powell.† Unfortunately he was set up himself, also by the neo-conservatives.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
May I, Tim?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Very briefly, and then I'm going to take another question.† We've got a lot of people.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
I think that the best proof that the policy of anti-war, that intimacy with the United States has gone bankrupt, is the new policy that is being launched now by Gordon Brown about what he called 'hard-headed internationalism', that is, keeping a distance from the United States, but this brings the UK into some state of confusion.† They are not very clear with it now.† Is it an alliance with America, with Europe?† He changed the text of his Foreign Minister on Europe because he was trying to put too much emphasis on Europe.† There is a lot of confusion, Britain is looking its way in the darkness after the Iraq experience.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, we're going to take a question from the gentleman in the corner over there, you sir.†
AUDIENCE Q (M)
This question is for the opposition.† You argued that Britain's role in the region is not in terminal decline.† Given its close alignment with the United States, do you think it still enjoys the credibility in the region to exercise an independent foreign policy after this?
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
It depends who you're talking to.† If you're talking to the Iraqis in power right now, they'll say, 'Thank you, United Kingdom,' and 'Thank you, United States.'† If you talk to people, the youth in the Arab World, they are quite angry about the missteps of the war in Iraq because it, for many reasons, I guess this is another debate, but I think it is, how much influence does the United Kingdom exercise in the region is a policy, so if it is measured influence or is it, you know, to play not a competitor to the United States but the complementary player, or in some cases you would have the United Kingdom remembered with its worst legacy in the Arab World, that of Balfour promise and the legacy of doing the Palestinians wrong in the region, from the point of view of the region.† So it depends how you look at it.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Malcolm Rifkind, do you want to ...
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Yes.† Most of the Arab governments, I suspect most of Arab public opinion, perhaps Israeli† public opinion as well, recognises that it's going to be very difficult to get permanent solutions, permanent peace in the region without some sort of external support and external help, and I'm often told, I think many people are told, why we want not just the United Kingdom but also France or other European countries, to be involved and to have influence is because they don't want it just to be the United States.† That is the only country outside the region that can actually call the shots and try and influence events.† Now, everyone recognises the United States as the most powerful country, but the United Kingdom and France, which are the two European countries that have the historical experience of the region, we are relatively close geographical neighbours, huge economic links with the region, every large numbers of people from the region in the United Kingdom, Britain and France compared to Russia or Germany or China will always have much more influence.
TIM SEBASTIAN
I want to bring the questioner back in actually, because you look as though you're itching to say something again.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Sorry.† I do understand that Britain should play a larger role, yes, but given the situation in the Middle East now, that it is involved in the Iraq War, as the proposition argued, on the wrong side, given these circumstances, do you think that Britain still enjoys that place in that region, to exercise a completely independent foreign policy, one that is different from the United States, and do you feel they would be given the space by countries in the region to exercise that sort of foreign policy?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Just very briefly.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Yes, very briefly, absolutely, that the United Kingdom can choose to exercise its influence independent of the United States from the point of view of the region.† Right now France is sort of in the lead role in Lebanon for example.† That is not a competition with the United Kingdom, that is in co-ordination, so I think it's a new look at the British role in the region, not in competition necessarily but in complementary ways.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right.† We're going to take a question from a gentleman round here at the side.†
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Many of the examples given this evening as evidence of Britain's influence are actually examples of the individual influence of Tony Blair.† Given he's now part of that office, I'd be interested in the opposition's comments in particular on how sustainable that influence will be as that of a country as opposed to that of an individual.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Malcolm Rifkind.† I think they're torn on Tony Blair.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
I don't see my role as being either defending Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, this would be very uncomfortable for me, but ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
But have a go anyway.
Audience questionSIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
But the contribution the United Kingdom has made hasn't just begun with Tony Blair, whether you like or dislike his policies.† For example the role that the United Kingdom played in restoring the independence of Kuwait.† It was a very significant, a very major role, one which it did in alliance with many of the Arab states of the region.† I mentioned the Libyan policy.† That was not just Tony Blair, that was a bi-partisan policy ...
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
You're changing the geography of the Middle East.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Well, you may not think Libya's in the Middle East.† I happen to do.† I think most people would accept it's part of the overall region and it's not unreasonable to do so.† It's as much part of the Middle East as Iran is.† It's just as far from Israel I think as Iran is.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
But it has much more bearing on Israel than Libya, obviously.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
That's not the only criteria we apply.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
And to the other countries of the regions.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Absolutely so.† But the point I'm making is that the United Kingdom, its links are not accidental.† It wasn't that Britain woke up one day at 1960 or 1970 and said, 'I think we'll be a major player in the Middle East.'† Now, Europe and the Middle East are neighbours.† We share the Mediterranean, that is a fact of life.† The United States is on the other side of the world.† China is on the other side of the world.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
The Sixth Fleet is in the Mediterranean, the biggest power in the Mediterranean.SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Absolutely.† No-one is questioning that.† The question is whether the United States is to be the sole country outside the region that plays a part in helping reduce political settlements to the difficulties ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, quick word from Baroness Falkner.
BARONESS FALKNER
Sir Malcolm, you quote Iran as a country where we have leverage because we're involved in trying to do something about non-proliferation, but how far back to you want to go?† I mean, you're going back rather selectively.† I mean, it was Musaddiq, it was we and the CIA that got rid of the Iran's government in 1953.† It was we who were on the wrong side.† It was we who were on the wrong side of the Iran/Iraq war in supporting Saddam who we then had to get rid of.† So, you know, you don't expect people on main streets in Tehran to suddenly look at the United Kingdom and say, 'They're going to be the beneficent power, they're going to help us by helping us.'
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, gentleman in the third row there, you sir, with the glasses.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Good evening.† To the opposition, how much do you think that the role the UK has currently is a matter of inertia?† It has been a big player, it was the whole formation of the Middle East, of course it played a big role, but how much is the current role the UK plays is because the institutions are in place, the UK is in the Security Council, so there's no other option, but it's not a preferred player.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Look, the role that is played through the Security Council is a very important role for any permanent member.† China has the habit of abstaining and it's actually almost I guess the charter, that you go on abstaining because you suppose this is about international peace and security, and China uses the Security Council just like any other country would be, the United States or the United Kingdom or France, the same things with the Russians, but the fact that they do negotiate there whether about Iran or whether about, you know, how to get the Libyans earlier on to cough up, or the information that they had on, you know, the IRA, that was use of it for bilateral purposes.† The point is that the role of the United Kingdom throughout the Security Council is one of permanent member of the Security Council, meaning that if there are talks with an international tribunal in Lebanon for example, which would be a precedent, the participation of the United Kingdom in making that happen is to bring a precedent into the region.† There are small roles that the United Kingdom is playing other than the big role of, you know, being part of ...† Small roles as in training, training the Iraqis.† This is something they're not looking, to my knowledge, right now for a huge role.
TIM SEBASTIAN
And we can argue about how effective that is.† We're going to move on quickly to another question, gentleman in the front row there please.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Good evening.† I would say that Britain is playing a small role in the region but behind the scenes nowadays.† My question is to the proposition: how could you say that Britain has no role? It has the major reconstruction contracts in Iraq after the war and it is not a soldier supporting Israel any more.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Well, I think that the fact that Britain, this addresses perhaps also a remark made by Sir Malcolm, the fact that you have trade relations and you are present all over doesn't give you necessarily the power to influence.† You see, the main trading partner of Britain in the Middle East is not any particular country in the Gulf, it is Israel, so what is the political leverage today or Britain on Israel in terms of the peace process, of changing positions, with regard to Hamas, with regard to the border of '67 or of refugees or whatever core issue is at stake.† There is no such an influence.† We need to admit ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
You're saying there's zero influence of Britain on Israel, zero?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Yes, practically zero.† I mean, this is a simple reality.† To me the debate here is not about whether we speak English or American.† This is a reality of the global world.† To me the debate is about practical influence to reconstruct a highly dysfunctional Middle East, highly dysfunctional relations between states, and there the influence of the United Kingdom is obviously in decline since the 40s, and nothing has happened to reverse that trend.
TIM SEBASTIAN
(to questioner)You wanted to come back on that?
AUDIENCE Q (M)
So if Israel needs help nowadays Britain will not help?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Obviously not.† I mean, Britain is not in the business of protecting Israel, not even the United States.† I mean, Israel has never used foreign soldiers for its defence.† The United States has been an intimate ally that has provided military assistance in terms of material but not in terms of sending soldiers.† Nobody ever died for Israel that is not an Israeli citizen.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right.† We'll take another question from the lady in the front row there.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
This question's for Baroness Falkner.† You so kindly mentioned Suez. Well, 1956 marked a very important turning point for Britain's role in the Middle East, and as was mentioned, the Balfour Declaration and the handing over of the Palestinian mandate to the UN, the Arabs had this sense of loss of hope in Britain, and I thought it was very important to mention that later it reflected the bi-polar system, the Cold War bi-polar system with the influence of the Soviet Union and the US, but, but it's important to note that President. Abdel Gamel Nasser of Egypt blamed Britain for economic colonialism.† None of the speakers have mentioned economic colonialism.†
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
You're coming to a point here?
AUDIENCE Q (F)
I am coming to a point.† I'm coming to a question actually. Economic colonialism, in this world money equals power and influence, so can't you argue that Britain's influence and role in the Middle East has not exactly declined, it's changed in nature and the intensity is still there, but it's different.† What do you think about that?
BARONESS FALKNER
I think its role has changed in nature significantly yes, it was an imperial power shortly before that period, and it is no longer an imperial power at all.† It's part of several multi-lateral groupings and it exercises different roles within the different multi-lateral groupings.† I don't think that economic relations alone make for a positive relationship,† you know, Mr. Ben-Ami has just said that, but I don't really think that's a solution.† In that case, if you look at for example China, which is supporting the economy of Zimbabwe at the moment, would anyone say that China's playing a positive role in helping the nasty Zimbabwe government stay afloat?† I would say no.† Economic relations are a double-edged sword.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
It's important to note that the economic sector in any country plays a very important role in this society as a whole.† It has a large influence, so you have to take into consideration big companies like Shell and, can I say this on television?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Yes, go ahead.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
Shell, HSBC, all these banks, all these companies, they have a huge, their hand is in the society.† Even in my country, Qatar, I see all these big companies and all the expatriates in the biggest and the highest roles, well, there is Qatarisation now but, and it's developing and it is changing but you see all the expatriates playing a very important and pivotal role.
TIM SEBASTIAN
OK, Shlomo Ben-Ami, you want to come in.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
I think that it goes both ways, this business of investments.† There is a lot of money from Britain in the Middle East, there is a lot of money from the Middle East in Britain.† Does this mean that the Middle East has a leverage on the policies of Britain?† Maybe even one could say that the fact that so much Arab money is in London, in the City, in all kind of equities in Britain is a threat on Britain, because they could at a moment of crisis, they could withdraw these assets, so we are talking here about a global economy.† Everybody is everywhere, and everybody in that sense has a given influence on the other.† This is not the issue here, to my mind.† The issue is that Britain is a miniature version of the United States.† It has over-stretched its imperial capacity all over including in the Middle East.† Only that America has the capacity to recover.† Annapolis is a good example.† Only America is capable after a debacle ...
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
First of all we are not a miniature version of the United States.† The United States used to be a British colony.† The Americans were our colony who rebelled successfully against us and it's never been quite the same since.† But the main point that I wanted to make was, yes, I agree with a lot of what you've said about general trade, let me finish.† I said I've agreed with what you say about general trade.† What you are ignoring is that much of the British economic links with the region are actual defence relationships, our defence relationship with the United Arab Emirates, our defence support that we give, trading and other support to Oman, the obvious Al-Yamamah relationship with Saudi Arabia, again sometimes controversial ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Always.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
But when you have that degree of mutual dependence with the Saudis for example, a major country in the region, depending on the United Kingdom for a very large part of their air supplies and the United Kingdom not only providing the equipment but doing a lot of the training and so forth, that is a relationship which is close, which is intimate, it's influence in both directions.† It's not just British influence in Saudi Arabia, the reverse also applies.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
King Abdullah was in London.† Did you convince him to come to Annapolis or was it an assurance that the Americans gave him to come to Annapolis?† So what is influence, explain to me what do you mean by influence.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Forgive me, Annapolis is an American initiative.† Of course it was the Americans that have persuaded the Saudis to come.† I mean, there have been over the years British conferences that have taken place in the United Kingdom.† When we had the Lancaster House negotiations on Zimbabwe, we did the invitations and persuaded people to come.† This is a conference in the United States.† It'd be very odd if it wasn't the Americans who decided who to invite.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
I'm going to take a question from the third row, please, gentleman in the middle there.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Thank you.† This is a question for the opposition.† You've made your case as to why Britain's role in the Middle East is not in decline.† However, in the coming decades will we see the European Union become a much stronger international community?† Do you believe that that is incompatible with Britain maintaining a strong position or can Britain maintain a strong position and the EU have an independent strong position?
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
It's the latter, I believe the latter and I think this is exactly what's happening right now.† The United Kingdom is very strong within the EU.† It plays a leading role and I think the collectiveness of the EU positions on international affairs is an important weight to be exercised and the British influence in particular is rather special.† That is one of the reasons why I argue passionately that the United Kingdom's influence is there.† All it needs to do is employ it.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right.† Malcolm Rifkind.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
I can give you a direct answer to your question.† If the European Union is trying to create a common position in foreign policy, it can only do so if there's unanimity, so if Britain, France, Germany and the other countries agree, then they speak as a single European Union, and Britain is a major contributor to that policy.† If there is not unanimity, then the United Kingdom bilaterally makes its views heard just as France or Germany would.
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
Are you happy with that?
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Yes.
Audience questionTIM SEBASTIAN
OK, lady in red please.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
Following directly on from that question, if Britain weren't a member of the EU, what would their influence be?† Would it be greater or weaker?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
I think that generally speaking our membership of the European Union provides an opportunity, if there is agreement with other European countries, to have much greater weight in the world as a whole, because Britain, France, Germany are obviously relatively small countries compared to the United States, compared with what China will become, and therefore if there is agreement, that is sensible, but for the time being, at this stage in the development of the European Union, unanimity will only happen from time to time.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But Britain's bridging role which it's much cherished over the years, that's over now?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
No, I wouldn't say it's over because I think the United Kingdom and the United States will continue to have a more intimate relationship than the Americans have with any other single country, and Britain as part of a European Union will be a major contributor to European policy, so that can be a force for good.† It won't always be used sensibly, that power, but the potential's there and it's for a sensible British government to use that influence.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, lady on end of the row there, you please.†
AUDIENCE Q (F)
My question is for the opposition.† It's been consistently mentioned, Britain's power comes from its strong ties to the US and its strong support and almost tagging along with its policies.† Does this not imply that Britain without the US and in itself as a sole nation has no particular power and influence in the Middle East?
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
Not really, not at all, because there are different layers of influence.† There are times where there is direct bilateral influence, but there are also times when there are regional approaches, be it through the EU or be it in collaboration with the United States.† In fact it multiplies the role of the United Kingdom, and I want to say once again, it is only as much as the policy-makers would choose to exercise that role, that influence, that matters.† It is their option, it is not outside of their hands, it's not in terminal decline.
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
Are you happy with that?† OK.† Gentleman at the back, just by the curtain.†
AUDIENCE Q (M)
It's a question to the opposition. Surely Britain's terminal decline in the Middle East is reflected by the terminal decline of external powers in the Middle East, and I think this is reflected in the growth of indigenous groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, which Britain has little to zero influence over, similarly with all external powers.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
Sir Malcolm.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Well, Hamas and Hezbollah, their main threat is of course to governments, to the states of the region because they at the moment do not represent anyone other than their own organisation, so it is a very major change in the region, but I think you make a mistake by, or you may be making a mistake, by implying that Hamas and Hezbollah do not aspire to being one day the governments of the countries in which they are involved.† They aspire to government, unlike Al Qaeda which is simply a terrorist organisation.†† Hamas and Hezbollah may have begun as organisations.† What they hope to do, as we are seeing with Hamas in Gaza, is one day be governments.†
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
And when there is time to speak to Iran about the grand bargain, if there is any such thing that's going to happen, the British influence with Iran would equip the United Kingdom to say the Iranians, 'You stop.† We cannot allow you to turn Lebanon into an Iranian base.'† This is only if there is going to be a talk of a grand bargain, otherwise it's going to have to be the military talk, and right now we have an Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah, Hamas axis that's going on.† There is a great division in the Arab World over that.† It does not enjoy the support of the Arabs altogether.† Actually the Lebanon is divided very strongly on this issue.
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
Did you want to come back on that?
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Yes.† On that point about Lebanon, I mean, surely what we're seeing now with the presidential crisis is how Christian allies of Hezbollah, Michel Aoun, are in fact opposed to an external influence of say Iran which I take it is external to the Middle East proper and those of the United States and say France, which used to be Aoun's great backer, it's that sort of relationship that we're seeing develop.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
I assure you, this is very much an external influence in Lebanon.† This is not only about an argument amongst some Christians and some Muslims, some Shi'ites, some Sunnis.† It is very much about the Iranians using proxies in Lebanon, Lebanese proxies, and it's very much about Syria just won't let go of Lebanon, so it is not really only internal.† Yes, internal players are there, but it's quite run, extremely tightly run by Damascus and by Tehran.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Shlomo Ben-Ami, you have a point to make.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
In 2003 there was an idea of a grand bargain with Iran, the Iranians in fact proposed that. They were encircled by the Americans taking over Iraq and they were ready to put everything on the table, and the Americans rejected the grand bargain and the British allies were not there to have an influence on America to change its policies.† It was a major missed opportunity, the grand bargain of 2003.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
I'm not so sure about that but that's another discussion.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
We're going to take a final question from the lady in the front row.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
My question is to the proposition.† Before the British divided the Middle East, if you were to ask any Arab living in that area of their nationality, they would respond, 'I am an Arab.'† However, after the interference of the UK, you would hear, 'I am a Jordanian, I am a Lebanese, I'm a Qatari, I'm a Bahraini,' etc. and added on to that, after the US's interference, even more divisions have been formed.† How could you claim that Britain's role or influence could ever be in decline when they have left permanent scars?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI
Well, I think it is right, what you mention.† I think the idea of the state as a whole is not an Arab idea.† The Arab nation is much more powerful, and indeed the fact that British colonialism has split the region into states, and many people speak today about the artificiality of Iraq as a state and Iran being probably the only millenarian historically speaking state, so this is a reality, and no doubt the Iraq war has given a boost to this division of the region, but it has given a boost, along a line which in my view is a fallacy, that division between the arc of extremism and the moderates.† What Britain and the United States did, and in many ways also Israel, by opting for the so-called moderates is giving a licence to the extremists to go for a dictatorship that is even more profound.† They have boosted, they have given a support to dictatorial practices and they have minimised, they have eliminated the political space where Arabs can reach, can reconcile their own differences.
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
Does this answer your question?
AUDIENCE Q (F)
Not really, no.
BARONESS FALKNER
I think in many ways you answered your own question, because you said, 'How can you say that Britain's role is in decline when it's left all those scars?'† Well, that's the very proof of the negativity of its role.† Raghida mentioned the Balfour Declaration and how she sees that as the beginning of everything starting to go wrong, but of course there's the modern state, artificial though it may be, in the Middle East, but the modern state is there to stay, and there is nothing incompatible with people in Jordan or Egypt having identity with their state as well as feeling pan-Arab, and both things can happen in a positive way and should be rejoiced about.
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
You just wanted to come back on that.
AUDIENCE Q (F)
Yes.† I just wanted to point out that you can never actually claim that Britain's role is going to ever disappear because they initiated these problems, they set the division, and now Arabs are in chaos because of it so ...
TIM SEBASTIAN†
So that's right, you agree with that?† OK.† Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Yes.† It's nice to be here and to be told that Britain has this enormous power and influence but I think you're exaggerating.
TIM SEBASTIAN†
Whether for good or evil.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
Well, whether for good or bad.† Britain was in the region from about 1920 to 1950 as a serious major power, actually in control of people's destinies.† Now, I don't believe it's arguable that but for that 30 years the whole Arab World would have wanted to create a single nation and a single state.† The reality is that nationalism has been a global phenomenon and many parts of the world have been divided, in Africa and Asia and other places, and the likelihood is, you would have had the growth of nation states in the Arab World even if the United Kingdom and France had never been anywhere near.
TIM SEBASTIAN† (to questioner)
You wanted to come back?
AUDIENCE Q (F)
That's very true.† However, why did the UK have to divide, why didn't they leave it to the Arabs?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND
That's a separate issue, that is a separate issue.
TIM SEBASTIAN††
Very briefly because we're running out of time.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM
I think you are absolutely right to demand that the British clean up what they've left behind, and I think they do have an influence and its moral imperative is that they should exercise it particularly because they have left that mess behind.

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Vote result

VotingTIM SEBASTIAN
All right, thank you very much.† We have reached the point in the proceedings where we're going to vote on the motion that 'This House believes that Britain's role in the Middle East is in terminal decline.'† Would you please take the voting machines.† If you want to vote for the motion, that is the side represented by Baroness Falkner and Shlomo Ben-Ami, would you press button one, and then the OK button.† If you want to vote against the motion, the side represented by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Raghida Dergham, would you press button two followed by the OK button and would you please do that now.† You only have to press each button once because through the miracles of modern science your vote will therefore be instantly communicated to our computers and we should have the result for you very shortly.† All right, I think have the result now up on the screen.† There it is, for the motion, 32%; against the motion, 68%.† The motion has been resoundingly defeated.† All it remains for me to do is to thank our distinguished guests for coming here tonight.† Some of you have travelled a very long way indeed, we're very grateful.† Thank you to you, the audience, and thank you also to the Cambridge Union for inviting us.† The Doha Debates will be back again at the end of January.† Please do join us then.† Till then, from all of us on the team, have a safe journey home.† Good night, thank you very much.

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