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Blair Urges Bush To Alter Policy

US President George W. Bush with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Paris (UPI) Nov 14, 2006
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of President George W. Bush's most ardent supporters in the triple wars -- Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism -- is urging the American president to consider using all of his clout and make a dramatic U-turn from current Iraq policy. A policy which, if left unchanged, more and more experts, analysts and politicians agree will lead to nothing short of disaster.

The realization that Iraq is heading down the wrong track is even beginning to surface among some of the staunchest neoconservatives, including architects of the Iraq war.

In their newly released book "Out of Iraq," George McGovern and William R. Polk call the war in Iraq a "calamitous mistake."

McGovern was the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 1972; he served for 22 years in the House and Senate and ran the Middle East Policy Council in Washington for six years. Polk was a Harvard professor before becoming a member of the State Department Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East.

"Military force may change a regime but cannot create democracy," wrote McGovern and Polk, a reality which is unfolding in Iraq. True, the U.S. military brought about regime change in the country, and got rid of a tyrant, but three years later the democracy the Bush administration had hoped for is still nowhere on the horizon. And terrorism in Iraq has never been more present. As McGovern and Polk point out, "Today we are truly looking into the abyss toward a hell on earth."

The big change is that Blair, who until now toed the Bush line on the Iraq war, would like to see Bush invite Damascus and Tehran to the negotiating table in an attempt at forging peace out of the mayhem that ensued as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Blair has come to realize that no lasting peace in the region will be possible without the participation of all parties.

President Bush may not like what he hears from his most loyal and trusted ally. Blair, no doubt, is not a great fan of either Syria or Iran. But the British prime minister is becoming a realist when it comes to dealing in Middle Eastern politics.

Indeed, if there ever is to be lasting peace in the Middle East, it will not happen so long as those on the outside control enough forces on the inside to create havoc if they are not sitting at the negotiating table with the rest of the stakeholders.

Bush believes that by sidelining the Syrians and Iranians, he is punishing them. But anyone who has spent any time in the Middle East knows only too well that things simply don't work that way. The shunned parties will retreat to their corner and conjure their proxy militias to ensure that whatever peace accord is reached is only temporary.

Blair is well aware of the damage Tehran and Damascus can cause through their proxy militias.

Interestingly, Blair's plea to Bush to change policy in Iraq and the region comes at the same time that the Democrats, who just won both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, are also asking for a clearer policy on Iraq. In his annual foreign affairs speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet in London Sunday night, the British prime minister offered Iran "a clear strategic choice": a partnership if Iran stopped its support of terrorism in Lebanon and Iraq and accepts its responsibilities, or greater isolation and sanctions. Syria was given the same choices.

It remains to be seen if Bush will heed the advice from his most trusted ally, and if Syria and Iran will accept the challenge.

earlier related report
Europe To Rethink Iraq Strategy
by Stefan Nicola - UPI Germany Correspondent
Berlin (UPI) Nov 14 - In the wake of pressure from the German federal president and possible strategy changes by the U.S. government for Iraq, Berlin repeated its refusal to send troops to the violence-ridden country but considered expanding its help in other areas. Asked in his regular news conference whether he could rule out Germany sending troops to Iraq, German defense ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told reporters: "Yes."

He stressed, however, that Germany was already quite active there.

German specialists train Iraqi soldiers, police agents, security guards and justice employees, albeit outside the country.

Berlin has also written off Iraqi debt and has pledged to support reconstruction efforts with some $255 million. Germany's total support tallied over $6.4 billion, Raabe said.

On the same day, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said in a newspaper interview the German government would not rule out expanding its help.

"We are ready to do more," Thomas Steg told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "We could also imagine doing this by expanding the training of border guards."

However, the spokesman said that the Iraqi government would have to formally request that additional help, and further German assistance would require an improvement in the security situation.

The statements come in the wake of pressure put on Merkel by German President Horst Koehler, who in a newspaper interview urged Germany and Europe to do more to help the United States and its allies to improve the situation in Iraq.

"The war has led to a disaster, but we can't sit back and say it's a problem for the Americans. That would be dumb, short-sighted and arrogant," Koehler said.

The midterm elections in the United States had changed the political situation, he said, adding that European governments should now rethink what they are doing or not doing in Iraq.

"But I can't see that the Europeans are intensely thinking about what they could do," he said. "We cannot allow the region to slide into chaos. We have a direct, existential interest in preventing this."

A former head of the International Monetary Fund, Koehler has only limited powers as Germany's largely representational president, but he is nevertheless able to influence the public debate about important issues.

Koehler was put in office with the backing of Chancellor Merkel, who has only commented through her spokesman on the issue. She has previously ruled out sending troops to Iraq however, although she is much more delicate than her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder in her criticism of the Iraq war -- which she supported as an opposition politician.

The former chancellor had sent U.S.-German ties to new lows due to his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq. Schroeder's vow not to send troops to Iraq helped him becoming reelected in 2002.

The public opinion hasn't changed since, and Merkel knows: Sending troops into the dangerous country, where dozens of people are killed every day, would be political suicide. Given the insecurity over possible strategy changes in Iraq, sparked by the Democratic victory in the U.S. midterm elections, it is further understandable that Berlin is not keen on providing support where it may not be needed anymore.

There are, however, many things Germany could and likely would do to help Iraq once the country is more stable, experts say.

"The German political foundations would be great contributors to help building democratic structures, especially when it comes to federalism questions," Rainer Glagow, the head of the Berlin bureau of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, a German political think tank, Tuesday told United Press International. "But right now, no institution would send its employees to Iraq, it's simply too dangerous."

There are options to bring peace to the regions that lie outside Iraq, at least that's what British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday in a major foreign policy speech, in which he urged the international community to pursue a broader Middle East strategy.

Blair urged Syria and Iran to become partners in a wider Middle East peace process that views the solving of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a key to stabilizing Iraq.

"A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it," Blair said. "We should start with Israel-Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all Arab and Muslim voices behind a push for peace in those countries, but also in Iraq."

Germany is known to have excellent contacts to both Israeli and Palestinian officials, which can't be said of the United States and Britain.

While Glagow said aiming to include Syria and Iran in the peace process was the right move, Glagow wasn't optimistic that Tehran would take part in such an initiative.

"Yes, Iran wants to solidify its position as a regional power in the Middle East and influence policy there," he said. "But to take part in such an initiative while at the same time stopping the uranium enrichment activities of its nuclear program ... I just don't see it happening. One would have to offer Iran a bait, and I don't know what that could be."

Source: United Press International

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