Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. Blair v Chilcot. No contest: we and the truth are the losers (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley says that the ease with which Tony Blair ran rings round the Chilcot inquiry left a bad taste in the mouth. It may now be beyond any earthly power to get a final reckoning from him for Iraq.

2. The patient's on a dripfeed -- cuts now will kill us (Mail on Sunday)

Vince Cable warns that the economy is too fragile to withstand immediate cuts in public spending. But he adds that it is unjust of Labour and the Tories to ring-fence some budgets from cuts and condemn others to deep reductions.

3. Blair will never escape censure on this earth (Sunday Mirror)

The New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, says that Blair performed brilliantly at the Chilcot inquiry but Iraq remains a terrible legacy for him. Labour has learned the lessons of the war and has a new multilateral foreign policy.

4. Another act in the Leader's Tragedy (Independent on Sunday)

John Rentoul argues that Blair's failure to pay his respects to the fallen at the Chilcot inquiry was a mistake. In order to defend his historical reputation, he needed to engage more with the arguments that informed his judgements.

5. Tony Blair sold the Iraq war on his judgement. His judgement was wrong (Observer)

A leading article in the Observer, which supported the invasion at the time, says that Blair's decision was wrong. The methods used to take Britain to war perverted democracy and the law.

6. The danger for Cameron in a feeble recovery (Sunday Times)

A leader warns the Tories that Labour appears to benefiting from the gradual economic recovery. David Cameron must prevent his party members from being seen as dangerous and irresponsible cutters.

7. It's all aboard the gravy train for Network Rail bosses (Observer)

Nick Cohen argues that Network Rail, where bosses earn up to £1.2m a year, is another example of private affluence at public expense. Britain is the only European country to allow a fragmented privatised rail network.

8. Trust has been the biggest casualty of the Iraq affair (Sunday Telegraph)

Richard Dannatt says that never again must the armed forces be placed in a position where they doubt the integrity of the government.

9. The real north-south divide crippling Britain (Sunday Times)

Rigid national pay scales are undermining public-service reform, argues Alison Wolf. In the coming years, national bargaining will make rational cost-cutting impossible.

10. Inequality in Britain isn't down to class but brains (Sunday Telegraph)

Alasdair Palmer says that IQ, not social class, is the best predictor for income and status.

 

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How to end the Gulf stand off? The West should tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy

Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon on the unfolding crisis in the Gulf. 

Only one group stands to benefit from a continuation of the crisis in Gulf: The Quartet, as they are now being called. Last week, The United Arab Emirates foreign minister tweeted that Qatar and its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbours are heading for a "long estrangement". We should take him at his word.

The European political establishment has been quick to dismiss the boycott by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt as naïve, and a strategic mistake. The received wisdom now is that they have acted impulsively, and that any payoff will be inescapably pyrrhic. I’m not so sure.

Another view: Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's foreign minister, was in the region over the weekend to see if he could relay some of his boss’s diplomatic momentum. He has offered to help mediate with Kuwait, clearly in the belief that this is the perfect opportunity to elevate France back to the top table. But if President Emmanuel Macron thinks this one will be as straightforward as a Donald Trump handshake, he should know that European charm doesn’t function as well in the 45 degree desert heat (even if some people call him the Sun King).

Western mediation has so far proceeded on the assumption that both sides privately know they will suffer if this conflict drags on. The US secretary of state Rex Tillerson judged that a Qatari commitment to further counter-terrorism measures might provide sufficient justification for a noble reversal. But he perhaps underestimates the seriousness of the challenge being made to Qatar. This is not some poorly-judged attempt to steal a quick diplomatic win over an inferior neighbour.

Qatar’s foreign policy is of direct and existential concern to the other governments in the Gulf. They will not let Qatar off the hook. And even more than that, why should they? Qatar has enormous diplomatic and commercial clout for its size, but that would evaporate in an instant if companies and governments were forced to choose between Doha and the Quartet, whose combined GDP is almost ten times that of their former ally. Iran, Turkey and Russia might stay on side. But Qatar would lose the US and Europe, where most of its soft power has been developed. Qatar’s success has been dependent on its ability to play both sides. If it loses that privilege, as it would in the event of an interminable cold war in the Gulf, then the curtains could come down.

Which is why, if they wanted to badly enough, Le Drian and Tillerson could end this conflict tomorrow. Qatar’s foreign policy has been concerning for the past decade. It has backed virtually every losing side in the Arab world, and caused a significant amount of destruction in the process. In Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, Qatar has turned a blind eye to the funding of Islamic revolutionaries with the financial muscle to topple incumbent regimes. Its motives are clear; influence over the emergent republics, as it had in Egypt for a year under Mohamed Morsi. But as we review the success of this policy from the perspective of 2017, it seems clear that all that has been achieved is a combination of civil unrest and civil war. The experiment has failed.

Moreover, the Coalition is not going to lift sanctions until Doha suspends its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. When Western leaders survey the Gulf and consider who they should support, they observe two things: firstly, that the foreign policy of the Quartet is much more aligned with their own (it doesn’t seem likely to me that any European or American company would prefer to see a revolution in Dubai instead of a continuation of the present arrangement), and secondly, that Qatar would fold immediately if they applied any significant pressure. The Al Thani ruling family has bet its fortune and power on trans-Atlantic support; it is simply not credible that they would turn to the West’s enemies in the event that an ultimatum was issued. Doha might even welcome an excuse to pause its costly and ineffective programmes. Even if that involves some short term embarrassment. It is hardly going to lose support at home, with the highest GDP per capita in the world.

It would be necessary to make sure that the Coalition understands that it will have to pay a price for decisive Western intervention. The world will be a more dangerous place if our allies get the impression they can freely bully any smaller rival, knowing that the West will always come down on their side. That is however no great hurdle to action; it might even be a positive thing if we can at the same time negotiate greater contributions to counter-terrorism or refugee funding.

Unfortunately the reason why none of this is likely to happen is partly that the West has lost a lot of confidence in its ability to resolve issues in the Middle East since 2003, and partly because it fears for its interests in Doha and the handsome Qatari contributions in Western capitals. This cautious assessment is wrong and will be more harmful to Qatar and the aforementioned interests. The Quartet has no incentive to relent, it can’t afford to and will profit from commercial uncertainty in Doha the longer this drags on. If the West really wants this to end now, it must tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy or face sanctions from a more threatening ally.

Geoffrey Hoon was the UK defence secretary from 1999 to 2005.  

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