Middle Eastern Society Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles – “9/11: 10 Years On”

Sir Sherard gave a most illuminating and insightful talk on the Middle East to a packed Marten Library. He gave a personal view on Western influence in the Middle East, focussing particularly on the last decade, but also going back as far as the early 20th century and foreign involvement in Palestine. Having had vast experience as British Ambassador to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, he was in a position to make an informed judgement on Western policy in the area. He highlighted the lack of understanding of, and trust in, the local people and drew a comparison with a similar situation with Britain in Palestine in 1937. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, we were told, developed into situations far beyond Western control, and far off-target from what had originally been planned (i.e. an attack on terrorist organisations, particularly Al-Qaeda). The struggle against Al-Qaeda was deemed justifiable, but limitations in the US constitution mean that concerns about domestic politics outweigh the importance of decision-making on global affairs. Problems were also highlighted about the situation of the youth in the Middle East; with a lack of money, jobs and education it is evident that it would be hard to quickly assemble a fair, peaceful and practical political settlement. He concluded by stating that it is important to look to history and learn from the lessons of mistakes made in the past. Questions at the end covered a range of topics: the relationship between the USA and Palestine; the viability of Israel negotiating with Hamas; the use of nuclear warfare in the Middle East; the role of American army bases; reasons for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; and ways forward in the Israeli-Arab issue.

Tom Barrowcliff OS (MJP)