Britain’s Hague Right to Restore Relations with Iran

It was reported yesterday that in a telephone conversation with the Iranian foreign minister, William Hague said that he is open to improving ties between his country and the United Kingdom. Relations were severed nearly two years ago when mobs attacked the British embassy in Tehran. Frankly, it’s about time.

Both David Cameron and the foreign secretary imagine themselves to be “grand strategists,” yet they have shown little strategic nous as far as Tehran is concerned. We want to withdraw peacefully from Afghanistan, end the conflict in Syria, and stop the Iranians from developing a nuclear capability. Achieving all of these goals depends on having a better relationship with Iran.

If we want the Tehran regime to stop its nuclear program, then we need to convince them that the West is not a threat to them. Toppling Bashar al-Assad in Syria would isolate them in the region, as some predict, but isolation is likely to make them more committed to possessing a nuclear capability. We need to negotiate a settlement between the Syrian rebels and the Assad regime and we need Iran to help us. Read more “Britain’s Hague Right to Restore Relations with Iran”

Foreign Policy is Rarely a Zero-Sum Game

It is perfectly possible for one country to argue with another over a controversial issue at the same time as cooperating with them on several others — as long as they both get their priorities right and are diplomatic in explaining their differences publicly.

Unfortunately, both Britain and the United States have failed to do this with regard to Russia: they have given more attention to Syria, where they disagree with the latter, than to the many more important issues on which they share common interests. The way British and American officials have explained their differences with their Russian counterparts has also been appallingly undiplomatic and, unsurprisingly, counterproductive. Read more “Foreign Policy is Rarely a Zero-Sum Game”

Relations with Iran Key to Solving Afghanistan

One cannot govern well by reacting to events.

The British government must share this view, as it is the intention behind the National Security Council. It is supposed to put day to day crises into a larger context and shape a strategic response to them. Speaking in Washington DC several months after the NSC was created, William Hague, the foreign secretary, boasted that it had already made Britain’s Afghanistan policy strategically “coherent,” among other things.

Yet Britain’s handling of Iran suggests that this is not the case. The Iranians ought to be the West’s allies in Afghanistan but saber rattling over their nuclear program is forcing them to undermine NATO’s efforts there.

If London really wants to resolve these crises, it needs to adopt a truly strategic approach toward them, not react to them as though they were unrelated events. Read more “Relations with Iran Key to Solving Afghanistan”

Britain Must Cut the Gordian Knot of Afghanistan

A blow, expected, repeated, falling on a bruise, with no smart or shock of surprise, only a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne.

This is how it feels any time a great tragedy is reported from Afghanistan.

One often asks, warily, “Why the hell are we there?”

The deaths of six British servicemen in Helmand last week prompted David Cameron to answer,

We are there to prevent that country from being a safe haven for Al Qaeda, from where they might plan attacks on the United Kingdom or our allies.

Our troops are not only securing the future of the United Kingdom, but also “the future of the world.”

It became difficult to take seriously such grandiloquent rhetoric by the prime minister when, nearly two years ago, he placed an arbitrary deadline on securing the future of the world. Read more “Britain Must Cut the Gordian Knot of Afghanistan”

Western Decline is Not Inevitable

The West has had a tough time these last few years, flying from one crisis to another as if in a pinball machine and some of the levers seemingly controlled by the Chinese.

Some believe that the ongoing sovereign debt crisis is not only a crisis of globalization but also one of Western identity. Given the alarm with which many in Europe reacted to the possibility of Beijing coming to their financial rescue late last year, they might be on to something.

Yet it is not the rise of countries like China that is dispiriting. Rather it is the self-pity that their rise has engendered in the West. Our public discourse has a melancholic tone, often combined with morbid humor: such as the gag that Chinese leaders only visit the United States to collect the rent. This kind of talk about Western decline is exaggerated and I reckon that we can reverse our relative decline by learning from some of the mistakes of the last decade. Read more “Western Decline is Not Inevitable”