Debate: what is the right response to the Iran crisis?
Santiago Bedoya Pardo
The United Kingdom must lead mediation
Qasem Soleimani is no martyr. To lament his death would be to turn a blind eye on the fact that, as highlighted by PM Boris Johnson, he had ‘British blood on his hands’. Mr. Johnson, however, fails at accurately displaying the sheer barbarity of Mr. Soleimani’s actions while serving as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s chief commander throughout the Middle East.
Mr. Soleimani’s hands were stained not only by the blood of innocent British citizens, but too of innocent Yemeni, Syrian, Iraqi men, women, and children. Soleimani, however, should not domineer over this conversation. His legacy is bloody. But he was merely an exported taster of the culture of terror and fear imposed by a regime which has sought to trash democracy and liberty, condemning its very own citizenry to a life of unspeakable restriction and punishment.
It is here where we may find the true angle through which this conversation ought to be held. This is not a tale which fits the á-la-révolutionnaire narrative which many have sought to hammer it into. We’re not discussing an unjustified attack upon an otherwise innocent actor on the geopolitical stage, this is not Chile in 1973. What is on the table is a regime which has committed heinous atrocities, both at home and abroad. One that seeks to attain hegemony in what is already a deeply troubled region.
These atrocities include, but are not limited to, the vicious prosecution of members of the LGBTQ+ community – with homosexuality being labelled as a capital crime thanks to the regime’s interpretation of Sharia Law. There is also the appalling marginalization of women before the law. This is to say nothing of the ruthless posture against freedom of expression and the autonomy of the press.
These atrocities are not, unfortunately, new to the region. One may look back at Libya during Gaddafi’s brutal reign of terror, or perhaps more relevantly at Iraq, enslaved by Hussein’s will, corrupted and transformed into his very own satrapy. This begs the question, how is this problem to be addressed? Through the might of the arms? Through the senseless violence of war?
To these interrogations I respond with great resolve of spirit; no. The excesses of war have scarred this region beyond recognition. A simple glimpse at Iraqi reality nowadays will bare testimony to this; broken institutions, failed attempts at government, and the long shadow of international occupation.
To quote Harold Macmillan, “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war”.
This is a principle which should prevail during these very tense hours, a principle which Her Majesty’s Government seems to be fully devoted to.
Unsurprisingly, however, this very principle does allow for another polemic to arise, for who ought to ‘jaw, jaw’ in these circumstances? Should this be a question for the United Kingdom to attempt and answer? To this I will wholeheartedly say yes.
The United Kingdom should step up to its rightful role as the unequivocal birthplace of liberal democracy. It should stand up for the values of freedom and liberty which have characterized its history for centuries – values which are now, more than ever, under attack. So far, Johnson and his cabinet have, with great success, adopted such a position.
Recognizing Britain’s role as a grand mediator between the powers is a first step and a powerful one at that. Further diplomatic actions ought to be taken in the region in order to secure peace and stability, a prospect which is only truly attainable with a strong and stable United Kingdom. It must be ready, willing and able to act as a conciliator capable of defusing the current crisis and the underlying problem behind it; the outrageous abuses committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
These abuses, and I cannot highlight this enough, are not to be stopped through the force of arms and the folly of violence. Rather, the solution is legitimate sanctions, which may be used to penalize the regime. However, only one nation in the world is properly equipped to lead the effort in lobbying for such sanctions; Britain.
With nations such as Russia, China and -of course- the United States all holding interests in the region, it is only the United Kingdom that may act as a Salomonic arbitrator. This is the course of action the Johnson government ought to pursue.
To abdicate to this role in favour of Middle Eastern actors would be negligent, for who is to take up the torch? A fragile and institutionally flawed Iraq? A Syria that finds itself in a complete and total state of unrest? A Saudi Arabia vehemently pursuing the downfall of its greatest regional rival?
In the world of today, only the United Kingdom finds itself suited for the great task of mediating peace in a region currently facing the prospect of war.
Without such measures, a tale which rhymes with the Iraqi tragedy is nothing but a matter of time. Only through a strong, decisive role as a negotiator, will Britain be able to avoid the war of all against all to once again lead the Middle East to havoc and disarray.