Foreign policy

Lord Mandelson has never been one to shy away from defending doomed politicians.

But it was still a surprise to see him riding to the support of reformers within the Mubarak regime — not least the president’s son Gamal.

In a fascinating letter to the FT, Mandelson argues that it is too “simplistic” to cast Gamal Mubarak as the “putative beneficiary of a nepotistic transfer of family power, the continuation of ‘tyranny’ with a change of faces at the top”.

He warns that this diverts attention from the hidebound military and intelligence service figures who are really exercising control behind the scenes.

These security forces, he says, have been engaged in a tug of war with Gamal — a man who “has been the leading voice in favour of change within the government and the ruling party”.

An “orderly transition” (did he ever use that phrase about Gordon Brown?) should involve forging an alliance between secular opposition figures and reformers like Gamal in the government, he adds.

The letter is in full below. Well worth a read. I’m not sure how much support it would garner on the streets of Cairo. But it certainly shows that Mandelson still has an appetite for unpopular causes.

 

Jo Johnson

How does the world look from Westminster? Foreign policy is woefully under-scrutinised in the UK, where governments can wage war and sign treaties without reference to parliament, and the limited attention it does receive could arguably be better directed.  

Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq warThis post will automatically refresh every three minutes,  although it may take longer on mobile devices.

Read our earlier post here.

1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”

1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. 

Jim Pickard

Good morning. The Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.

12.30: We are now taking another coffee break. Alex will be your host when delivery returns in about 10 minutes’ time. You’ll need to go back to ft.com/westminster and open a new window – ie Iraq inquiry part two.

In the meantime here are some quotes from this morning’s inquiry which will no doubt make the news later.

* Blair told his chief of staff a year before the war with Iraq that the UK “should be gung-ho on Saddam”.

* “Up to September 11, we had been managing this issue. After September 11, we decided we had to confront and change.”

* “There are people who say that extremism can be managed. I personally don’t think that’s true.”

* On his Iraq policy in 2002: “I wasn’t keeping my options open. I was setting out a policy that was very very clear.”

* He said the cabinet was aware of his policy: “Go down UN route, get an ultimatum. If he fails to take the ultimatum, we’re going to be with America on military action.”

* “We were probably the most successful centre left government in the world.”

* “I was raising issues to do with Somalia…the Middle East peace process…Lebanon. My view was that this was all part of one issue, in the end. You couldn’t deal with it sequentially.”

* The nature of Saddam’s regime in Iraq was not a justification for going to war – “but it is why we should be proud to have got rid of him”.

* “I didn’t see September 11 as an attack on America, I saw it as an attack on us – the West. I told George Bush – ‘Whatever the political heat, if I think this is the right thing to do, I’m going to be with you.’”

* “When the military pressure was off, he was going to be back, and with far more money. If we had left Saddam there, I think it’s arguable he might have been developing in competition with Iran.”

12.25: Blair has argued that he wanted to get a majority of the UN security council, even if he could not get unanimous support. Sir Lawrence Freedman asked if Blair stopped the UN weapons inspection process just at the crucial point when it was starting to reap dividends. Blair sidesteps the question, saying Saddam was “back to his old games”. Freedman ponders whether a few more weeks may have made a difference?

Blair says Saddam may have made a few more concessions but his overall stance would not have changed – it was still a mistake to leave the dictator in place, he insists. 

Jo Johnson

As it’s prediction season, here goes… My crystal ball, for what it is worth, foretells political and economic union between France and Germany, perhaps within the next 12-24 months. Europe needs a gamechanger, one that creates an insurmountable firebreak against the speculators. Crises have historically been the motor of European integration and a full union, much like the panicky one Britain offered France in June 1940, might look tempting. It would provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial and economic policies, finally fulfilling the founding fathers’ dream of “ever closer union”. 

Here the FT’s South Asia bureau chief discusses the UK’s aid policy in India. What do you think David Cameron’s government should do? Join the debate in the comments section. 

It has been widely noted that David Cameron pinched a soundbite from Gordon Brown in his Guildhall speech on Monday night. Hard-headed internationalism, it seems, is good enough for two British prime ministers. 

George W. Bush’s bombastic return to the world stage has reminded me of my favourite Bush anecdote, which for various reasons we couldn’t publish at the time. Some of the witnesses still dine out on it.

The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor. 

Sir John Sawers, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, has never been one for the shadows.

While he served as political director at the Foreign Office, his influence was unmistakable on almost all areas of policy — indeed he even earned the nickname “Jonny Blue Eyes” for his dashing diplomacy. 

It is now received wisdom in Westminster that Liam Fox emerged victorious from his battle with the Treasury over defence funding.

The official history has David Cameron making a last minute intervention to boost defence spending, particularly for the army. The Treasury were only able to secure cuts of around 8 per cent in real terms, rather than the 10 per cent cuts they were pushing for.

The alternative interpretation is that Fox was short-changed and that this will become clear in the months ahead. The argument runs in two parts: 

Jo Johnson

The Commonwealth Games are in crisis and New Delhi wants to know where its friends are. If he wants to show real commitment to the “new special relationship” with India, David Cameron must make sure the English athletics squad turns up all present and correct, with big smiles on their faces. The Scottish team has already announced that it is delaying the departure of its 41 squad members, citing ongoing health and security fears over conditions in the athletes’ village. Now the Welsh have raised the stakes, giving the Delhi organising committee until five o’clock British time this afternoon to provide reassurances – saying that otherwise they might not travel. English officials have said the situation is “on a knife-edge”. 

Jim Pickard

It’s not clear when he will do so but the prime minister has promised to make an “early visit” to Pakistan, according to the joint statement from Zardari and Cameron today.

There is also a key line about the “sacrifices” made by Pakistani security forces in fighting violent extremism – which is presumably an attempt to defuse Cameron’s comments last week. (He had said, while in India, that Pakistan should not ‘look both ways’ on terror).

The Prime Minister recognised the sacrifices made by Pakistan’s military, civil law enforcement agencies and people in fighting violent extremism and militancy and appreciated the efforts of the democratic government. Both leaders appreciated the close co-operation that already exists between respective police forces and other security agencies.