That is the standard statement made by almost all governments. Often, fortunately, it is not true. They may be negotiating for a truce or settlement behind the scenes but, to succeed, it has to be private. More importantly, to succeed it has to be started. Wars end and terrorism stops when talking leads to agreement.
Isn’t That a Weak Position?
It would be if you could succeed by fighting them into submission. Sometimes that works. Much more often, it does not. Violent conflict runs on for years until both sides realise they can’t afford to keep on dying at that rate. The mighty US lost Vietnam and went home. The US and UK combined have not brought stability to Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq. Modern conflict is messy and complicated, fought house by house and surrounded with civilians.
Nor is it easy, sometimes, to know what victory would look like. We encouraged the Taliban to fight Russians in Afghanistan. The Russians left and we ended up fighting The Taliban. Then we started fighting ISIS all over the place and the Taliban helped us. Defeated ISIS fighters are sometimes taken into the regular armies they were recently fighting. Meanwhile we support ragged militias who are fighting against the Syrian government, who are fighting ISIS, with Russian help. How can you spot the bad guys these days? Hezbollah has elected MPS in the Lebanese Parliament but is also called a ‘terror group’. The world is more complicated than some people wish to admit. Who should we talk to, when and why?
They Call Me Sir
At the Commonwealth summit in Vancouver, in 1987, Margaret Thatcher declared,
A considerable number of the ANC leaders are Communists… When the ANC says that they will target British companies, this shows what a typical terrorist organisation it is. I fought terrorism all my life… I will have nothing to do with any organisation that practises violence. I have never seen anyone from ANC or the PLO or the IRA and would not do so.
In 1990, she is pictured on the steps of Downing St, shaking the hand of Nelson Mandela, the old communist terrorist who emerged from prison to bring peace to South Africa.
Martin McGuinness, leading light of the Provisional IRA, became Deputy First Minister and in 2016 meet HM The Queen.
Which terrorist organisation bombed the King David hotel in Jerusalem in 1946? No, not Al–Qaeda, which was only founded in 1988, It was Irgun, a terror group who also organised the Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948, on a Palestinian Arab village of roughly 600 people After they managed to get the British out, and their last commander, Menachem Begin, became the first Likud Prime Minister of Israel and met Jimmy Carter, President of the USA.
That’s how the world works. You fight, you win, you get to be respectable. When you are fighting they call you a terrorist; when you win they call you Sir.
So Who Do We Talk To?
Governments will continue to negotiate in private with groups they cannot defeat by force of arms. This is A Good Thing. It is inevitable. That is how the real world works and the sooner talking starts the sooner killing ends.
Some people will talk to so-them in public before it is politically safe to do so. That will get them into hot water, but someone has to make a principled stand. If talking will happen eventually anyway, perhaps sometimes we should start it now and save lives. After all, you may be shaking hands with a future President who is about to be praised by newspapers as a peacemaker.
Does that mean we talk to ISIS? It is certainly not Labour Party policy. But somewhere, unknown to you or I, it is probably happening already, between US and Syrian commanders and intermediaries. We don’t want their ideology but we have not yet defeated them. Negotiating is not the same as accepting but, sometimes, the very fact that talks have started tends to isolate the hard liners anyway and start to change the group. What Labour would argue is that attacking someone for talking to people to try to stop unwanted deaths is rather naive.