UK: Government Ministries Sinking in Sea of Incompetence

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Holed Below the Water Line

Diplomacy: “Tact and skill in dealing with people. The art or practice of conducting international relations, alliances, treaties and agreements … relations between nations.”

As Ministers utter inane, ill-considered, uninformed statements, they also appear to compete as to who can construct the most idiotic policy.

The Minister for Health committed to Health Service of national pride, then shut down a swathe of practical, popular, walk-in health centres — open before and after working hours — with a great public satisfaction rating and which took the burden off overstretched hospital Accident and Emergency Units.

National Health Direct, an excellent medical help line, which advised the worried but not critical, rather than calling an ambulance (but recommended if they should) was another success.  It hit the dust by Ministerial decree, to be replaced by a “Dial 111” service, staffed by majority non-medically trained personnel, a disastrous amateur shadow of its predecessor.

Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, charged with protection of the environment, favours fracking and killing wild animals. He also told the Tory Party Conference this year that there are advantages to climate change, in spite of — after fourteen months in office — never having been briefed on it by the UK’s Chief Scientist, according to material obtained by the Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, (Independent, October 30, 2013). He is the Minister in charge of climate change policy.

Last March, Paterson told Country Life magazine that no one wants to see the ban on hunting foxes repealed more than he does. Hunting involves men and women on horseback, dressed in silly clothes, chasing foxes with a pack of hounds, the highlight seeing the small, terrified animal chased to exhaustion and torn to bits.

Paterson decreed that shooting up to 70% of beautiful, timid, nocturnal badgers is the answer to TB in cattle.  Vaccinating cattle, as happens in the Netherlands, is not an option. Two examples. Incidentally, it is not requisite that Ministers have any background in the area they oversee as ultimate arbitrator. Few do.

There may be a Ministry somewhere that is fit for purpose; if so, they are keeping a low profile. But for government watchers (whichever government is being watched) the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, seat of supposed diplomacy, has a special place in the annals of duplicity and ignorant, destructive intent.

Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary under Tony Blair, enthusiast for the Iraq invasion, had:

… thought about war from an early age. My father (Walter Straw) had been a conscientious objector in World War II and had gone to prison for his beliefs. At school, I’d been the in-house socialist and pacifist.

Exempted from the Cadet Corps, I did first aid instead. (As) a member of the unilateralist Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in my youth and, like all of my generation, never forgot the frightening experience of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis … I was … aware of war’s realities.

Yet here I was … arguing the case for going to war, in the full knowledge that it would cost the lives of our soldiers as well as many innocent Iraqi civilians.

It was the most difficult and momentous decision I’ve ever made, or ever will make. After MPs gave their approval … Tony (Blair) thanked me. ’I couldn’t have done it without you’, he said. This was gracious of him … If I had argued publicly against the war, the UK would not have been involved.

The countless hours I’d spent in (Parliament), in Cabinet, and at meetings of Labour MPs, listening, explaining our position, meant that we’d secured both understanding and support for what we decided to do.” (Emphasis mine.)

All the Iraqi government had to do was make a full declaration of its WMD programmes and allow inspectors unrestricted access. All Saddam had to do was say ‘yes.’

Saddam Hussein had allowed the weapons inspectors unrestricted access — they were withdrawn under US pressure, in spite of asking for more time. The Iraqi government, of course, presented the United Nations with near 12,000 pages in “full declaration”, which was stolen by the US delegation to the UN.

Jack Straw’s memoirs, from which the above is taken, erases these facts of recent history as easily has he erased his earlier convictions of pacifism and disarmament. He could not have been more perfect material for a British Foreign Secretary, the country’s top diplomat — until the current incumbent, William Hague.

A careful search on how many languages are spoken by the Hague — whose Ministerial duties necessarily take him across the globe — drew a blank until Wiki Answers provided: “There is no record of William Hague being fluent in any language except English … However his Welsh- born wife taught him how to sing the Welsh national anthem.” Hardly much use in China, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Far East or wherever the taxpayers’ money takes him. Clearly the colonial adage of shouting at the locals — or politicians and Heads of State — louder, in English, still rules.

Incredibly, the Foreign Office closed its language school in 2007. This year, with towering understatement, they acknowledged that, “For some posts, a lack of fluency in the local language will limit the credibility of the post holder.” (BBC, April 19, 2013.)

“Diplomat” Hague, who has never seen the bloody brain and body shattering tragedy wrought by a bullet, yet alone bomb or missile, is a war enthusiast. A Conservative Friend of Israel “since I was sixteen”, he voted “very strongly” for the illegal Iraq invasion.

However, in March this year, as the tenth anniversary of the US-UK declared Crusade loomed in all its tarnished, disgraced, discredited ignominy, it transpired he had “… provoked a bitter row” within the UK’s coalition government, “urging (Cabinet Ministers) not to discuss the case for, or the legality of, the Iraq war in the run-up to the (invasion anniversary) …”

“In a confidential letter, the Foreign Secretary told senior Members of the government they should not be drawn on the controversial issues that drew the UK into a politically divisive conflict …” It was “denied that it was intended as a way of gagging Ministers on what remains a toxic political issue.”

Heaven forbid! “Don’t mention the war”, comes to mind.

“The Foreign Secretary has written to colleagues to remind them that the agreed position of the coalition government is not to comment on the case or justification for the war until (The Chilcot Inquiry on Iraq) has reported”, said a source close to Hague.

“This is about allowing the Inquiry to reach its conclusion, not having the government prejudge them. In opposition, (Hague) strongly supported establishing an Inquiry, so it would be ridiculous to suggest he is trying to limit or stifle debate or discussion”, stated a spokesperson.

Another untruth. The British government has been actively obstructing the Chilcot Inquiry’s access to the most vital correspondence and records of George W. Bush and Tony Blair’s discussions. Yet under Blair’s Premiership, the “dodgy dossiers” and “forty five minutes” to destruction fairy stories, were dreamed up.

The linguistically challenged Hague, needless to say, was also an enthusiast for the searing destruction of Libya, and the overthrow of the country’s Leader, whose terrible end is US, UK, NATO responsibility, the carnage and chaos, as Iraq, ongoing. Near forgotten is a disastrous personal initiative of the Foreign Secretary, shortly after the start of the February 2011 externally fermented unrest — mirror image of the foreign backed insurgency in Syria.

By early March Hague was “mocked” in Parliament over a plan, expressed by former Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Menzies Campbell as “ill conceived, poorly planned and embarrassingly executed.”  An understatement:

William Hague’s decision to send in a heavily armed covert squad has turned Britain and its elite fighting force into an international laughing stock.

Six SAS soldiers and two MI6 agents, acting under his orders, were dispatched to the desert in eastern Libya in the middle of the night.  They went to make contact with rebels opposed to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

“Their bizarre arrival” by helicopter, at a commercial farm, led to them being arrested and Hague’s “diplomatic team” of illegals of ill intent held for two days and finally dumped — by the “rebels” they had come to meet — on a British war ship lurking off the Libyan coast.

“Under fire” in Parliament, “Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander drew howls of laughter (asking) Mr Hague: “If some new neighbours moved into the Foreign Secretary’s street, would he introduce himself by ringing the doorbell or instead choose to climb over the fence in the middle of the night?’ “

Hague took “full Ministerial responsibility” and called it a “serious misunderstanding.” Illegal entry of a country by a bunch of alleged spies and men trained in murder is a plot.  No “misunderstanding” is involved. “Shame”, as languages, being a foreign land, “he said a second unit would be sent to try again.”

When it comes to Syria, the Foreign Office website is a gem of pious mistruths. Under “Policy” it reads: “Working for peace and long term stability in the Middle East and North Africa.” Under “Worldwide priorities” is: “Providing humanitarian assistance in Syria.”

On November 19, 2013, in a written statement to Parliament, Hague commits to “the gifting of non-lethal equipment to the (self styled) Supreme Military Council of the Syrian National Coalition”, which includes the “rebel” Free Syrian Army (FSA.) As Libya, Britain aids the terrorists.

The “gift” includes: “ … communications equipment, such as laptops with satellite internet connection, mobile telephones and push-to-talk radios; commercially available vehicles, such as pick-up trucks; fuel; portable generators … logistics supplies …” The “gift” is to cost the un-consulted British taxpayer one million pounds sterling.

In a commitment of unparalleled naivety or duplicity, depending on your view, Hague adds: “Recipients have been carefully selected to prevent equipment being given to those involved in extremist activities or human rights violations.” Given that a recent British defense study estimated about 100,000 militants, comprising 1,000 splinter groups, fighting in Syria, “careful selection” is wishful thinking on steroids.

The self styled Supreme Military Council is headed by Turkey based General Salim Idris who defected from the Syrian Arab Army in July 2012. He was a Brigadier General then, but seemingly promoted himself to full General on the road from Damascus. Aid has already been received from the US and the “General” encourages international intervention and at the least, “game changing weapons.”

Hague’s “carefully selected” moderates in the FSA “… are seen as the ‘good guys’. Sadly, a little research (finds) the good guys are not so good, (being) accused of summarily executing prisoners, recruiting children as soldiers, kidnapping and executing pilgrims … throwing civilians off rooftops and cutting organs from the bodies of dead prisoners.” A regionally knowledgeable friend added: “An army of cannibals and beheaders — a ‘revolution’ or a horror story? When will Jack the Ripper take control of the ‘rebel’ armies?”

Further, Hague and his equally accident prone counterpart at the Home Office, Theresa May, have not even control of criminal elements at home, yet alone in Syria. Last month an officer with MI5 told a Parliamentary Committee: “We’ve seen low hundreds of people from this country go to Syria for periods and come back – some large numbers are still there …”

Syrian Christian MP, Maria Saadeh travelled to Rome last week to appraise the Pope of reality in Syria. The Foreign Secretary should invite her to London on the way back, but Whitehall doesn’t do injections of reality.

Ms Saadeh’s facts are stark.  Some 11,000 children have already died in the conflict. Moreover, she states, they have now become a target for Al-Qaeda-linked and jihadist groups fighting to overthrow the Damascus government: ”There have been five attacks alone on Christian schools over the past few days, injuring and killing children”, she said, claiming that it is a strategy “to get Christians – who are secular and moderate – to flee the country.”

Some 450,000 of the just over two million Christians in Syria have left the country. MP Saadeh blames the media for the slanted take on Syria. “It is not a war against the regime, as the international media has long portrayed it to be, but a war to destroy the Syrian State by a group of extremists and criminals controlled by foreign powers.”

The top priority is to defend the State, she stressed: “If the Syrian State collapses, it will mean the total disintegration of the country”, leaving 23 million citizens without wages, pensions, schools or health care, in the hands of Al Qaeda-linked groups that are dreaming of a ‘’Sunni caliphate.’ “

The rebels are destroying “the country’s administrative facilities, factories, agro-food system, and archeological sites. How can the West think that the killings, the car bombs, the attacks on civilians and the beheadings are synonymous with democracy?”

She warns: “Al Qaeda is operating in Syria now, but jihadist Islam has spread to Europe as well. The top goal must therefore be to halt the violence and stop fundamentalist groups from getting weapons and money.”

If the Foreign Secretary is linguistically barren, it is to be hoped he can at least read.

Should anyone wonder whether criticisms of the Foreign Secretary’s fatally flawed judgment are harsh, here is his assessment of Syria’s neighbour, Iraq, on the BBC Politics Show in May this year. Iraq, he said, was ” … a better place and it was worth doing what we have done”.  Further, “Now it is a democratic country.”

Reality is “centralisation of power, endemic torture, mass executions, unfair trials, mass arrests, the suppression of critical media outlets, persecution and intimidation …” and rampant sectarianism.


*51% of 12-17 year olds do not attend secondary school’.

*One in four children has stunted physical and intellectual development due to under-nutrition’.

*In 2011 a survey found up to 1 million children have lost one or both parents in the conflict’.

*In 2010, 7 years after the conflict began, it was estimated that over a quarter of Iraqi children, or 3 million, suffered varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.

*The life expectancy of ordinary Iraqis has gone down by two years in just over a decade. If you were born in 2000 instead of 2011 you could expect to live 2 years longer’.

*Between December 2012 and April 2013 “an estimated 692 children and young people have been killed’ in conflict related violence; more ‘than 1,976 children and young people have been injured’. These figures are almost certainly underestimates.”

Deaths to date in car bombings and violence are over eight thousand, with the total for November being 948 dead and 1,349 wounded, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry, leaving UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov also “… profoundly disturbed by the recent surge in execution-style killings that have been carried out in a particularly horrendous and unspeakable manner.” (Russia Today, December 1, 2013)

Advice for William Hague in a voice from the past, the lady selling birds in a Basra market, in the invasion’s ruins:  “We don’t want your freedom, democracy, liberation – we just want peace.” She speaks for the region.

William Hague should listen to Deputy Saadeh, Mother Agnes Mariam two who know reality, then ditch his “gift”, say “Mea culpa” and butt out.

Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) Read other articles by Felicity.