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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 November 2006, 11:14 GMT
Lessons learned?
On Sunday 26 November, Andrew Marr interviewed Lord Ashdown

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Lord Ashdown
Lord Ashdown

ANDREW MARR: Paddy welcome.

LORD ASHDOWN: Nice to be with you.

ANDREW MARR: I won't call you Lord Ashdown for the rest of this interview.

LORD ASHDOWN: Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR: Let's, let's ask directly whether there is any read-over from what happened in Bosnia.

A very different situation we know - but in many respects civil war, a lot of the violence coming from parties who'd been living next door to each other before it all started - to the situation now in Iraq.

LORD ASHDOWN: And there are similarities. You've named some of them. There are also great differences. You had a four year war in Bosnia. Ninety per cent of the houses were damaged or destroyed.

Half the population driven from its home. A four week war in Iraq. Much less damage. Much less displacement of people. So what you can't do is say this worked in this country therefore it will work in another. You can't export a programme for peace stabilisation.

You have to use will, intelligence, judgment, courage to get the thing through. But there are some common features, you might say, about what succeeds in peace stabilisation. One, secure the security space from the moment the war ends. And the Americans catastrophically failed to do that by having too few troops on the ground. You probably need more troops to control the post war situation than you need to win the war. And they failed to understand that.

ANDREW MARR: And, sorry, is that a lost opportunity, that we're now too, too far down the ..

LORD ASHDOWN: The lost opportunity. I mean you know when people end a war what do they want? They want security. If you can't provide that because you haven't got the troops on the ground and catastrophically you have disbanded the Iraqi army they'll turn to the people who can provide it which is the local militia. So this was the catastrophic, early, fatal mistake.

And our inability to recover that situation, the story of the last three years in Iraq has been our attempts to do that and we have failed, means that we have lost the opportunity. And is there a way back from that? Well the straight answer at present is no.

ANDREW MARR: No. So if the phone call I'd suspect you'd least like to have came and it was Tony Blair saying "Paddy, would you mind going over to Baghdad and seeing what you can do to help?" is there anything that you would recommend at this stage?

LORD ASHDOWN: Look I think Iraq is a classic example Andrew of the hubris that attends over ambitious aims at peace making. We went in pretending we could create a modern, liberal, western democracy. We tried to import our own democratic systems into a middle eastern country without reference to their traditions, to their culture, to the local situation. So I think what we have to do is now abandon those ambitious aims. One aim it seems to me remains both important and achievable and that is to preserve the unitary status of Iraq, albeit in federal structure.

Only if we can do that can we remove, remove ourselves with dignity and can we leave behind stability. Now how do you do that? There is only one way of doing it and that is within a regional agreement, which includes a solution to the Palestine question and in which the neighbours are engaged in preserving the unitary structure of Iraq. That means Syria, it means Iran, it means to people, talking to people we didn't want to talk to, don't like to talk to, but that was true of Milosevic and Tudjman It means in short a Dayton Agreement to secure the internal structures of the unitary Iraq in which the neighbours are a guarantor force.

ANDREW MARR: Now that is clearly what Tony Blair is trying to achieve in his last few months. But we've got the appalling assass..., we were talking about political assassinations earlier on. We had the assassination in Beirut. He's not going to have the time and the political heft to achieve all of that before he goes is he? Or is he?

LORD ASHDOWN: Well I'm not sure. I mean I think I, I think I'm, I think I can detect this, that this is a passion in Blair. This is the one thing he wants to do before he leaves. Maybe it's the way he assuages the down side of the Iraq legacy. My guess is however that A, the Americans have got no leverage left on this because of the consequences of their failures in Iraq. B, Blair is probably incorporated in that judgment as well. He can't do it. But C there is an organisation that could do it.

The European Union could act as the honest brokers for a Middle East settlement which included Palestine on the one hand and Iraq on the other. And by the way Andrew there is a forum to do that. There is already in meeting, I think nine or ten meetings, the Neighbours Forum which includes Turkey, which includes Iran, Syria, now invited Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan. And to which the United Nations and the European Union have recently been invited to act as observers. A ready made forum to do this.

Now if Tony Blair really wants to do this the thing he could do would be to stimulate a European Union initiative. They have the leverage that America's now lost to begin to construct this ..

ANDREW MARR: So that's where it should start from?

LORD ASHDOWN: And that's where it should start.

ANDREW MARR: Politics here has changed amazingly since, since you left the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

LORD ASHDOWN: It has and it hasn't.

ANDREW MARR: Has and it hasn't. Well one of the ways it's changed is that the, the Conservative Party has moved much, much closer to the centre ground on social policy, on all sorts of things. And people say that gives your party, the Liberal Democrats, a real problem because there's now a pretty crowded centre ground when it comes to issues like civil liberties, when it comes to the poor, when it comes to many other things.

LORD ASHDOWN: Yes, I mean a problem but an opportunity. I mean you know when Blair moved onto our ground, when I was the leader of the party it was a problem but it was also an opportunity. The truth is that there is only one agenda running at present and that's the Liberal agenda.

It's about tackling social justice, it's about internationalism, it's about Europe, it's about the economy, it's about the environment. This is where we've stood for ages. So when other people move onto your ground, yes, you have to show that you can be distinctive on that. But on the other hand you are proved to be right. And the one thing that Ming Cameron couldn't, Ming, Ming Campbell ..

ANDREW MARR: Ming Cameron. It really is changing.

LORD ASHDOWN: ... there's an interesting slip. The one thing that Ming Campbell can say, which David Cameron cannot and Gordon Brown and Tony Blair cannot, is this is where I've always stood. I am where I always have been.


LORD ASHDOWN: You can trust me. And in moving in a, in a, in a fluid political situation I think that, I think that being trustworthy, being somebody who the nation can accept has always stood on this position is a distinct political advantage. And I guess Ming Campbell will play that and play at a great advantage.

ANDREW MARR: Well we'll watch that with great care. Thank you very much indeed for joining us Paddy.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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