BBC OneThis Week


Page last updated at 17:49 GMT, Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Paddy Ashdown

Paddy Ashdown
Just because we've done it wrong in Iraq doesn't mean that we don't know how to do it right.
And we're not going to have to do this less in the future; we're going to have to do it more.

Paddy Ashdown
We asked diplomat, soldier and peer Paddy Ashdown for his Take Of The Week.

In a strange way, peace-making post-conflict reconstructions have been a leitmotif of my life.

As a Royal Marine, I was involved in Aden, Malaya and Belfast. As a politician, I was very much involved in trying to get an end to the Bosnian war. As High Representative in Sarajevo and Bosnia, I had to actually put it into practice.

I've come back with some very clear ideas about how this should be done, how we go on making the same mistakes again and again and again, how we keep getting burned fingers in the consequences, and how other people get broken lives.

I happen to be favour of removing Saddam Hussein by force, but what is very clear is that we've snatched a peace-making defeat out of the jaws of a military victory.

We no longer control events in Iraq

We've made every mistake it is possible to make. This has been a copybook example of how not to do post-conflict reconstruction.

Bush particularly, and Blair as well, have simply misunderstood or miscalculated what was necessary to build peace after conflict.

The result is that we have now reached the situation where we no longer control events in Iraq; events control us.

That probably applies to the process of our own withdrawal as well, so we have to decide what we can now do in order to get out.

Neither disembowelled nor dismembered

The most important thing in Iraq now is to hold the unitary nature of the country to make sure that it isn't disembowelled or dismembered. That's why what's happening now is so important and so threatening.

Is there a civil war going on at present? Frankly, pretty close to it. Is it technically a civil war? Probably not quite, but it's far more than an insurgency.

Paddy Ashdown

It will become a civil war unless we are able to find a political solution that not only the people of Iraq can buy into, but also their neighbours.

Imposing democracy at the point of a bayonet

President Bush has made this into a sort of crusade for democracy, as though you could take the democratic institutions of Midwest America and impose them at the point of a bayonet on a Middle Eastern Islamic country. You can't. They're different.

I don't even think that it's legitimate to intervene for democracy. You intervene for good governments to give people a choice and the rule of law. It's then up to them to choose a democracy.

Democracy is the consequence of your intervention; it's not the primary aim, and we have to learn that lesson.

A decade of deep, deep instability

We need to start talking about the post-Iraq world and one of my fears is that that world will say "never again" to intervention.

Wrong reaction. Just because we've done it wrong in Iraq doesn't mean that we don't know how to do it right. And we're not going to have to do this less in the future; we're going to have to do it more.

Why? Because we're moving into a decade of deep, deep instability and huge shifts in the patterns of world power.

I don't think - regrettably - that the era of great wars has passed. But our capacity to be able to control the little events of instability, and to intervene where we have to in order to protect the peace may well help us to avoid the greater event of a major conflict which may be down the track.

So we may have to do this more. But we must learn how to do it right.

Get in touch

To respond, to suggest other guests, or just to say hello, do feel free to email us at or using the form below.

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail address:

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.

Thursdays, 2335-0020, BBC One

iplayer replacing puffbox 7623712



Week by week guide
This Week quiz archive
TW's special treats
Downturn Abbey archives


Ruby shoes This Week team look for new PM
Diane Abbott and Keith Vaz Who's that slurping in the Commons?
This Week This Week theme music

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific