13 Jun 2014

Note to Kerry: two questions do not a press conference make

There are plenty of question-marks hanging over Anglo-American foreign policy right now. President Obama‘s been accused of being caught napping after adopting a wait-and-see policy towards Iraq, as vicious insurgents rampage across the country towards Baghdad.

And after the Conservatives backed Tony Blair‘s war there more than a decade ago, there’s plenty to ask the foreign secretary William Hague too about whether it was all worthwhile and if he plans a repeat of the adventure.

So it’s a shame the many questions on the tip of my tongue will have to go unanswered for now.

I’ve just been to the “press conference” in the Docklands hosted by the foreign secretary and the US Secretary of State John Kerry. I use the quote marks advisedly, because what should have been a chance for the press and broadcasters to put these two important statesmen on the spot, became an exercise in media management by the Foreign Office.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry is introduced by Britain's Foreign Secretary Hague at a summit to end sexual violence in conflict, in London

Just two hand-picked questions were permitted from British journalists – names selected by the FCO press office in advance – so the British and American governments got away virtually scot free.

Well, here’s what I would have asked, had I got the chance:

  1. Secretary Kerry, you’ve said the crisis in Iraq threatens European and American interests, and yet you don’t appear to be doing a whole lot about it. You’re “watching” (to quote the president) not acting. Why?
  2. With Iraq at risk of disintegration, what on earth was the point of America and the UK spilling so much blood and treasure there over the last decade?
  3. America finds itself on two sides in the Middle East – with the Sunnis in Syria but with the Shia¬† in Iraq. That’s awkward to say the least isn’t it?

And I had a few thoughts for Hague, just for good measure.

  1. You say you’re not planning military intervention. Does that mean you rule it out or is it still theoretically on the table?
  2. Opponents of the Iraq war say one act of violence begets another. Is this crisis the inevitable consequence of going to war in 2003 – a war you supported? Or do you subscribe to the neo-con view that the international community’s failure to take swift military action at the start of the Syrian conflict has fuelled the insurgency both there and now in Iraq?

I sincerely hope that as the Iraq debacle unfolds there will be other chances to probe the international leaders. Because some of these concerns about what passes for foreign policy need urgently answering.

But two questions (and a quick afterthought from an American wire service) do not a press conference make. I’m on the way back to the office with my shorthand notebook poised for more active service.

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