A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A state visit does not imply endorsement

Some of the blogosphere left are trying to say that the Saudi state visit implies the Government somehow doesn't care about the appalling human rights record of the Government there.

But I seem to recall state visits by Presidents of the USSR throughout the Cold War when both sides were condemning each other's political and economic systems, were pointing nuclear arsenals at each other and we were specifically condemning the Gulag and the treatment of dissidents.

My take on the Saudis is the same as that Churchill had on Stalin's Russia when the Nazis invaded it: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

They are a ghastly regime but the current alternative - even more extreme Islamism of the al-Qaeda variety - is even worse.

It's the same reason the West correctly backed Saddam's Iraq against Iran.

Diplomacy sometimes involves sitting down and establishing common interests with people you would otherwise not want to invite to dinner. You have to do it if you have wider strategic interests that need protecting, or you just need to be in dialogue with your "enemy's enemy". Unfortunately it's part of being in government - unlike Vince Cable we can't indulge in gesture politics.

I'm fairly sure that vice versa the Saudis find it equally, if not more distasteful than we do sitting down to negotiate with decadent infidel Western liberals who have a female head of state.


Blogger susan said...

I don't think anyone is saying that the Government "doesn't care." We are saying it is shameful that a Prime Minister who calls for human rights in Burma and Zimbabwe is hypocritically feting a dictator whose regime is responsible for systemic torture, abuse of women and denial of basic human freedoms. Granting a state visit is unacceptable, unnecessary and unethical. Vince Cable is quite right.I hope as many Labour supporyers as possible will join tomorrow night's protest outside the Saudi Embassy led by the LRC's youth wing.Thank God for MPs like Katy Clark and John McDonnell who have the courage to stand up on this and be counted - otherwise we really would be shamed by the stance of the Liberal democrats. As ever, Luke, you are way off the mark on this.

2:11 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I'm actually in favour of ordinary citizens, party members, indeed backbenchers expressing their distaste through demos. The Saudis need to know how people in the rest of the world feel about their record.

But Government Ministers have to behave appropriately towards a major trading partner.

If you think they shouldn't be a trading partner then you need to work out where we would get our oil from otherwise, and what kind of security scenario you get into if the regime changed there. But if they are to be our partner then at an official level we need to treat them diplomatically and respectfully.

3:51 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Does the same go for Burma?

And if not, why not?

3:57 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Luke, we are already detested by the majority of the Arab world. By proping up the corrupt kings and tinpot dictators in the region we are not making any new friends.

4:07 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

The alternative regime in Burma would be democrats who increased civil liberties. The alternative regime in Saudi Arabia would institute an even more despotic regime with greater human rights abuses than exist at the moment - or total anarchy.

The alternative regime in Burma would be our allies. The alternative regime in Saudi would use it as a vast training camp to suicide bomb us.

We don't yet have a realistic plan for regime change in Saudi that wouldn't dislocate our own energy supply and tip us into a world recession. Maybe that's a selfish consideration but I think it's worth bearing in mind.

4:09 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger el Tom said...

"The alternative regime in Saudi Arabia would institute an even more despotic regime with greater human rights abuses than exist at the moment - or total anarchy."

Now put that into an Iraqi context.

It's a shame so many on the right of the party really have such massive trouble deciding whether to be IR realists or liberal interventionists.

As for me, I would be happy if our foreign policy just had some kind of consistent ethical dimension.

With regard to trading partners; well, I mean... what's our guiding star? The ethics of removing dictators, or that of making cash?

4:23 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Owen said...

Firstly, just to remind people that a big demo will take place tomorrow (Wednesday) from 6pm-8pm outside the Saudi Embassy on Charles Street near Green Park station. The demo will be attended by Labour MPs, Murad Qureshi AM, Sandy Mitchell (a Briton who was imprisoned by the Saudis for 2 years), an exiled Saudi trade unionist, and campaigners such as Peter Tatchell. I'd encourage everyone to attend and to spread the word.

Secondly, the West backed another pro-Western oil-rich dictatorship in the 1970s - in Iran. As such, the West became closely associated with the regime in the minds of the Iranian people and - unsurprisingly - the regime that replaced the Shah was viciously anti-Western.

The Saudi tyranny will one day fall (as all tyrannies do). Because the West is the main ally of this barbaric regime - and effectively props it up with arms, cash and diplomatic support - it is of course fairly inevitable that a successor regime will be anti-Western.

Now Luke can either hope that this tyranny lasts forever (which I find a fairly disturbing hope from a self-described democratic socialist) or he can accept that one day it will fall. As such surely - from his perspective - it would be rather more long-sighted for the West to come out against the human rights abuses committed by the thugs in Riyadh and support a democratic process?

I'm also deeply unimpressed by his ahistorical analogies. Quoting Churchill's pragmatic search for allies at a time when Nazi imperialism was on the verge of conquering the whole of Europe and achieving world domination is one thing - can't really the say the same about Iran in the 1980s which was attacked by Saddam's Western-backed forces can you? The last time Iran launched a war of aggression against anyone was during its previous incarnation as Persia - in the 18th century.

4:27 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Owen said...

Indeed while I'm talking about Iran, I should also point out that not only does the clerical regime owe its existence to persistent Western interference in the country between the 1950s and 1970s, but that its newfound regional power has been handed to it on a plate by the antics of the West in the past few years.

The irony of people like Luke is that the political prescriptions they support end up helping the very people they oppose.

4:31 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


it's a bit bigger than "making cash". They produce the bulk of the oil that unfortunately our economy currently depends on to function.

I'd love to sever all our links with China too, they have an unpleasant regime that abuses human rights and colonises Tibet. But in the real world where countries are interdependent sometimes you have to work with the grain of circumstances.

4:31 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


if you can point me towards a Saudi Arabian exile group promoting a transition in that country to liberal democracy or democratic socialism, I will gladly express solidarity with them. But I ain't backing the replacement of a corrupt despotism with al-Qaeda.

4:34 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Owen said...

It's interesting that Luke uses China as an example given that Britain actually has repeatedly spoken about human rights abuses in that country - and indeed imposed sanctions following the 1989 Massacre.

His Cold War analogies are also meaningless given that the West routinely, persistently and aggressively denounced the human rights situation in Eastern Europe.

The fact is this country has sold billions of pounds worth of weapons to one of the most brutal regimes on the planet. By helping to prop up this tyranny, Britain and other Western countries have all but ensured that whatever succeeds the House of Saud will have an anti-Western bent. Luke's position is not only morally repugnant - it's actually counterproductive from his perspective and shows a damning lack of historical knowledge.

Not only does Britain refuse to even make mild public criticisms of one of the worst human rights situations on earth - we also have the grotesque spectacle of Kim Howells talking of "shared values" with a regime that decapitates people for alleged witchcraft.

Finally I hope Luke will express his solidarity with the Saudi trade unionist who will be attending our rally tomorrow.

4:41 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

Excuses, excuses....

Thing is, by saying 'oh, well, he';s not as bad as THAT dictator' isn't very convincing.

The question should be whether we ought to be 'major trading partners' particularly with regard to anything related to defence (all of which I regard as immoral expenditure in any case)

You can't criticise the Burmese regime when you are prepared to smooch up to the Saudis. It has as much credibility as Bush's explanation of why he invaded Iraq.

4:53 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I want a different kind of government in Saudi Arabia - I want liberal democracies in every country in the world. I've supported invading a few where this would help acheive it.

But I'm not prepared to say the UK should destabilise the current Saudi regime or deny them the arms they need to defend themselves against external agressors - and one can argue that the 1985 Al-Yamanah deal gave them the kit that stopped Saddam pushing on into Saudi after Kuwait - when the current alternative governants would be a) worse for the Saudi people and b) worse for our own national interests.

Merseymike, sorry to be pedantic but you say all defence expenditure is immoral. Do you include the procurement of Spitfires in 1939 in that?

5:22 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes. I'm a pacifist. Someone has to start somewhere.

Anyone could make the excuse you have just made based on a belief that an appalling regime has the 'right' to defend itself against other appalling regime. Really, the defence industry has not an ounce of morality - I don't know how anyone who regards themselves as left-of-centre would want anything to do with it.

I would cut defence spending to an absolute minimum and take no part in NATO. This is one issue where I am not in the least moderate...

8:06 pm, October 30, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Mike we will have to agree to differ.

9:35 pm, October 30, 2007

Anonymous GW said...

No doubt those who wish to be abslutist in respect of Saudi will follow the ultimate logic and not use any form of transport, or heating devised from oil.

Incidently why is it that those who are most critical about Labours actions in Iraq, were those who called most violently for British led military interventiom against Rhodesia, and the old regime in South Africa ? An where prepared to condem Harold and Jim for not taking such action?

9:56 pm, October 30, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Luke I think your posting of this could be construed as humbug, or worse, when it follows on from your posting of what you decorously called the ‘interesting’ EDM from the Lib Dems regarding Alex Salmond and Burma.

Now is that a kettle or a pot there? Doesn’t seem to matter, I think they’re both black.

10:49 am, October 31, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Sorry I don't understand Ted. I want to see the regime in Burma overthrown because what would replace it would be better for the Burmese and us. I don't want to see the regime in Saudi overthrown because what would replace it would be worse for the Saudis and us. Why's that so difficult to understand?

10:52 am, October 31, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

What were you anticipating would replace Saddam in Iraq?

In the 80s, what did you anticipate might replace the Ayatollahs in Iran had Saddam been victorious?

I'm afraid that - taken in the round - it IS quite hard to understand.

10:57 am, October 31, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Luke Akehurst said...
"I want a different kind of government in Saudi Arabia - I want liberal democracies in every country in the world. I've supported invading a few where this would help acheive it."

So does that mean you'll be first in the queue at the army recruitment centre? The role of the military is to defend us from invasion, not gun tote around the globe at the behest of some monkey president. Shame on you Luke; why is it there are so many armchair warriors out there willing to fight to the last drop of other peoples blood?

2:19 pm, October 31, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

Invasions rarely result in liberal democracies being created. Successful reforms emanate from within.

2:54 pm, October 31, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Except in the cases of Japan, Germany, Italy, Kosovo and Bosnia...

In fact Iraq is the only example I can think of where it hasn't worked - a democracy of sorts has been set up but a bunch of terrorists, mainly from outside the country, are trying to destroy it.

3:20 pm, October 31, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Luke Akehurst said...
Except in the cases of Japan, Germany, Italy, Kosovo and Bosnia...

Luke why do you insist on making sweeping statements which are just not true? You have deliberately misconstrune what Mike was saying. If Germany did not invade Poland we would not have gone to war with them nor their allies, regardless of a just cause. The fact remains the best way for regime change is to allow for it to occur naturally. It would ofcourse help if we did not stick our oar in every so often.

3:42 pm, October 31, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Sorry another point

Luke Akehurst said...

In fact Iraq is the only example I can think of where it hasn't worked - a democracy of sorts has been set up but a bunch of terrorists, mainly from outside the country, are trying to destroy it.

Rubbish, Sir Richard Dannett has said the insurgency is home grown.

3:43 pm, October 31, 2007

Anonymous J. Crane said...

"Except in the cases of Japan, Germany, Italy, Kosovo and Bosnia...

In fact Iraq is the only example I can think of where it hasn't worked"


With all due respect, what is your definition of success? While I would submit that Japan, Germany and Italy could certainly be considered "successful" (prima facie) attempts at "nation-building," let's not obscure the reality that all three of these countries were homogeneous nation-states (perhaps less so in the case of Italy) that had historical traditions compatible with Western governance (in the case of Japan, MacArthur in essence became the new Shogun and reformed the country accordingly).

In the case of Bosnia and Kosovo, I wouldn't call them successful attempts at all. Yes, the violence (for the most part) has been halted, but remove NATO/EU/UN forces from the equation and you've got a disaster on your hands. Moreover, by keeping forces there to mitigate this reality, you may in fact be generating more and more resentment over time. There's a reason why the term Balkanization continues to be found in the dictionary. Pretending that these countries/regions have solved their outstanding ethnic difficulties (sometimes thousands of years in length) is whistling past the graveyard.

As to other failed nation-building attempts, how about Haiti or Somalia...or even Vietnam?

No offense, but I think that you need to do a bit more research into this subject. When the US or Britain sends our brave men and women to die so that someone else can have the opportunity to do the right thing (largely squandered in the vast majority of these cases), I think that we, as the electorate, owe it to them to make sure that we not only understand the stakes, but the price (in blood and treasure) of failure.

4:12 pm, October 31, 2007

Blogger Chris Paul said...

There was absolutely no need for a state visit, royal banquet and carry on - even if the royal despot in chief marched in to Darth Vader's theme tune. See my blog.

If they get that when women can't vote, when women cannot drive, when maimings and beheadings are awarded for minor offences, when homophobia is policy and bribery too where's their motivation to massively up the speed of reform?

The Saudi royals are extremely status and "face" driven and offering performance-based rewards is more sensible than patting them on the back when they are still appalling tyrants, albeit geopolitically important tyrants.

State visits and banquets are way too far surely, even for pragmatic democratic socialists? Surely?

They will sell their oil and buy their arms anyway won't they? If not aren't these both things we should be weaning the world off to avoid this sort of enforced chumminess with Darth?

Whether there needs to be or should be friendly relations at any level is another question which might get a different answer from some people. But state banquets without even a nosepeg in sight, sorry no.

D Milliband I reckon had a strategic absence because he was brought up to understand these things.

Very kind of you to bless protests in this case Luke. That's something.

11:55 am, November 01, 2007

Anonymous Stuart said...

Where were the demos and blog protests when the President of Syria visited us recently? But I guess given Syria is vehemently anti Israel my enemies enemy is my friend and local human rights abuses can be the collateral damage...

And as for Vince Cable - purleease...his conscience didnt get the better of him when he worked in a senior post at Shell for many years, with all its Saudi contacts.

8:42 am, November 02, 2007

Anonymous Wessexian said...

Are people also forgetting that Saudi Arabia is also promoting Islamic intolerance world wide, through the funding of thousands of mosques and Islamic centres dedicated to preaching the Saudi brand of Wahabbism?

In Kosovo alone Saudi Arabia has funded the construction of more than 300 mosques.

Saudi might not be exporting terror directly, but the repugnant Saudi regime certainly seems to be preparing fertile ground for Islamist terror to take root in.

This is a fanatical Islamist regime that will not even allow the construction of a single church in its country and is spreading its poison worldwide. In almost every country with a significant number of Muslims Saudi Arabia is promoting intolerance and fundamentalism.

Britain is very foolish in aiding such a regime and I fear we'll pay when bombers radicalised by Saudi-funded projects start trying to blow us up.

9:49 pm, March 25, 2008


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