One of today's threads on Slugger highlights an interesting debate in the pages of Prospect magazine between David Trimble's biographer Dean Godson and Alistair Crooke, a former senior MI6 officer who advocates dialogue with Hamas.
Western policies are in difficulties throughout the middle east. The west responds to this situation by largely refusing to talk with the fastest growing current in the middle east, the Islamists. But the EU should heed the words of Efraim Halevy, former adviser to Ariel Sharon and a former Mossad head. He recently criticised Israel for insisting that Hamas first recognise the Jewish state as a precondition for any discussion. Halevy argued rather that Israel should recognise Hamas first. He predicted that in so doing, "we will be seeing things we have not seen before"--an apparent allusion to talks between Israel and Hamas. That would be a good start. (Talking to Hamas, via Policy Exchange)
Godson's reply, entitled (apparently without irony) Gone Native, links Crooke's stance to the role played in Ireland by Michael Oatley, who was the key MI6 back-channel to the IRA for thirty years, and who later publicly praised the Sinn Fein leadership.
One of the greatest problems with semi-official interventions of the kind associated with Crooke and Oatley is that they are often taken by insurgents to represent the "true" view of western states (as opposed to the passing interjections of mere elected politicians). Such "exes" can do great damage, giving insurgents confidence to hold out for more. No wonder the
London-based Arabic newspaper Al Quds al Arabi gave Crooke's interview such prominence.
Crooke and Oatley are the products of late-imperial British defeatism: an era when the main issue was the terms on which to exit the colonies. That is why the self-confident liberal interventionism of the American neoconservatives poses such a stark challenge. But America, whose decline is far from assured, should tread carefully before embracing the mindset of a country at a different phase in its existence. (Gone Native, via Policy Exchange)
However, the definitive study of 'semi-official interventions' at the expense of 'mere elected politicians' by the British secret services suggests their use in Northern Ireland was by no means restricted to 'defeatists.'
The critical fault-line was between the MI6/Foreign Office end of the secret state allied to the Westminster politicians, on the one hand, and all other agencies on the other. The MI6/Foreign Office axis believed neither that the Labour Party represented the Parliamentary end of a subversive wedge, nor that the IRA was some rough equivalent of the Malay Communist Party. 'From 1971 onwards, SIS officers came to believe that the Provisional Irish Republican Army was a political organisation which could be outwitted, not merely a terrorist organisation which must be destroyed.' After the failure of the 1972 talks, however, this faction of the state was in retreat. During 1973, the hard-liners in HQ Northern Ireland and in London gradually gained the upper hand and took the final step of expanding the category of 'the enemy' to include Westminster politicians - and not just those in the Labour Party. (Smear - Wilson and the Secret State)