Coffee House

How William Hague changed the Foreign Office

10 August 2012

There is a quiet revolution taking place at the Foreign Office under William Hague’s stewardship. This morning’s headlines focus on the announcement of ‘greatly increased’ support for Syrian rebels including £5 million ‘of non-lethal practical assistance’ for the Free Syrian Army. In straightforward terms this means communications equipment, medical supplies, and body armour.

Critics have understandable concerns. Who is the Free Syrian Army? What do they want? Will sectarian bloodshed follow the fall of Assad? Lessons from the Afghan-Soviet war counsel against the promiscuous embrace of rebels whose immediate aims appear to chime with ours.

This is the challenge facing Whitehall mandarins. A humanitarian crisis looms in Syria where more than 80,000 people have been internally displaced. Food shortages exist across the country. Injured civilians are forced to use flyblown field hospitals instead of government ones for fear of arrest.


Navigating the rapidly changing contours of power in the Middle East is among the greatest challenge any Foreign Secretary has faced in recent memory. Finding ways to engage new partners responsibly has forced the Foreign Office to reassess about how it reaches out.

Hague has repeatedly stressed he will not arm the rebels and that the government is cautiously engaging with those it does help. ‘We will, of course, be careful to whom we provide the practical help,’ he told reporters at the Foreign Office this morning. ‘All the support we provide will be consistent with our laws and values.’

Vetting partners on the ground and ensuring the government only works with those who support democratic values marks a dramatic change from the way the Foreign Office previously conducted business. Shortly after 9/11 it created the now defunct Engaging with the Islamic World Group which, at times, intimately supported the work of reactionary Islamists in the Middle East.

This has been done away with, but Hague knows he cannot afford to withdraw from the region. From the rise of Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt, to the chaos in Syria, he has resisted the temptation to engage unconditionally. Partners are now told they must commit to liberal values, particularly with regards to minorities. They will be judged, Hague insists, not on what they say but on what they do. This is the sea-change he has brought to the Foreign Office, linking British support for causes abroad to the maintenance of British values.

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  • Anne Wotana Kaye 1

    Hague is a moral, political and intellectual failure. His warped persona is represented in his old-time Music hall appearance. What manner of party does Cameron really lead if he has a degenerate such as Hague within it?

  • Justathought

    Home grown Islamic extremist seeking training for jihad will no longer have to seek covert training in Afghanistan or Pakistan. They can now travel to Syria and receive weapons and communications training quite legitimately funded by the Foreign Office. And how long after training the rebels will they turn upon the Christians? How many millions has Hague allocated to Syrian Christian organisations to relieve their suffering?

    • Coffeehousewall

      Christians have already all been driven from Homs and Aleppo by the ‘Free Syrian Army’. They are clearly no friends to Christians. Hague is happy to support them. He should be ashamed.

    • anne wotana kaye 1

      Why travel so far? What’s wrong with Rochdale or Bradford?

  • Iain Hill

    Is this a change we wanted? Never intervene in a civil war!

  • Radford_NG

    11 Aug.c.12.15am.BST…….Russia may have it right. To precis Russia Today [Freeview 85] :The Assad regime was authoritarian and discriminatory but not unduly persecutory.There is a democratic Syrian opposition opposed to armed-struggle.Unlike elsewhere Syria has a long history of having a civil society.The armed overthrow of the State will leave men with guns in control;and factions may not want to give up their guns(with the results reflected by some commentators on this site;and as I have suggested previously).Local cease-fires have been negotiated;and this maybe a better course for the UN then seeking a grand solution.Some of these ideas come from independent thinkers in Washington.====I suggest it is not well advised for Hague and the F.O. to be supporting those engaged in the armed-struggle.

  • Allectus

    Hague has been an abject failure as Foreign Secretary from the beginning.

    When he first assumed office he outraged traditional Tory supporters by declaring that “human rights” should be the key to our foreign policy. He tried to defuse things a little later by making some unconvincing noises about the “national interest”, but nobody was fooled, and, as our continued involvement in Afghanistan and fresh intervention in Libya and Syria illustrates so well, it was clear that he was simply picking up where the Blairite neocons left off. Far from building up the diplomatic service, Hague has lent his support to the continuation of the Labour policy of downgrading the Foreign Office at the expense of a bloated and mushrooming DFID. For all intents and purposes David Miliband might still be Foreign Secretary.

  • TomTom

    Always good to fund terrorists. How much do we give the terrorists operating in Saudi Arabia to bring democracy to the oppressed ? How much funding for terrorists in Turkey so the Kurds can break free ?

  • John Mackie

    What a load of dishonest BS. You couldn’t get a fagpaper between the methods and aims of the Israelis and Hague’s Foreign Office. And alighing ourselves with AlQaeda and various oversea’s terrorist groups isn’t exactly basing one’s policies on any moral firm ground.

    As anybody following the events closely here will know, this article is complete hogwash.

  • John_Page

    This is the sea-change he has brought to the Foreign Office, linking
    British support for causes abroad to the maintenance of British values.

    Is this what used to be known as an “ethical foreign policy” by any chance? :)

  • paul

    Syria is a nexus of diverse peoples & religions, Druze, Allewites, Ciraccians, Sunni Shia. Who have,
    all at one time, or another, been the dominant force in Syria, and have tribal
    links into the neighbouring countries. The only thing they have in common with
    each other is they are all armed to the teeth.

    Their shifting alliances and allegiances are positively
    oriental, how can we possibly know who the good guys are? There all bad.

    These things are all unknowable things, but the one thing we
    can be certain of is it will escalate drawing in: tribes, peoples, religions
    & countries. It will draw Iran into `boots on the ground’ into an Arab
    country and all hell will break loose then.

    Lets not forget a Russian base is there and Assad is a major ally, destabilising a Russian ally is not to be done lightly. Already a NATO Turkish jet has been shot down.

    This is not the great game the FO is playing it is a dangerous game.

    • TomTom

      What is a NATO Turkish jet ? It was a Phantom equipped for espionage and was in Syrian airspace. The USSR shot down Gary Powers in a U-2 plane but noone proposed going to war in 1960.

      The Turks are very lucky…..they play with fire and one day Putin will teach them a lesson

  • Frank P

    Hague should be forced to read this at gunpoint, then sacked:

    Another £5m donated to the enemy. Isn’t that treason?

    If so then amend ‘sacked’ (above) to “shot”

  • Augustus

    What’s there to win in this civil war? It won’t be a regime change that would reinstate a unified Syria. A dismal future indeed with a violent fragmentation of religious groups interspersed with violent jihadists from other countries, who are already successfully establishing roots throughout Syria. After the weakening of Assad is complete, the jihadists will simply aim their weapons at other groups. They will literally blow up everyone they don’t take a fancy to. A tsunami of terror across the whole of Syria. Perhaps Washington should go and talk to the Russians about pacifying the Syrians. Not an ideal solution, but better than a second Iraq.

  • daniel Maris

    Who defines these interests? Is it in our interests to have cheap oil and a mad Islamist regime in power in Saudi Arabia who destabilise democracies around the world? I don’t think so.

    We need to support real democrats around the world.

  • roger

    I cannot be bothered to comment any more on the Spectator, the magazine and on-line are just getting weaker and not dealing with the future of Britain head on, we are doomed to more decline with no end to wars and economic mismanagement, not to mention moral decay.

    • Coffeehousewall

      Try visiting www coffeehousewall co uk

    • Dave

      Bye Bye..You won’t be missed.

  • Nicholas

    Did they find the £5m down the back of a foreign office sofa or have they been robbing Peter again?

  • Alan Eastwood

    Hague is like a first world war general. He is a warmonger and this announcement should have been 1) Agreed by the full cabinet and 2) Agreed by the House of Commons. He is an elected minister NOT what he says he hates about Assad!
    This is not democracy at work. He is doing this in our names and I for one would never support such action. The man is a loose cannon.

    • TomTom

      No he isn’t. Hague is simply a puppet who has been bought. He is unprincipled and vacuous

  • Coffeehousewall

    The Free Syrian Army have driven all the Christians from Homs and Aleppo. They are destroying and looting Churches. They are not our friends, nor the friends of our culture. I have no confidence in William Hague supporting Christians anywhere. When Coptic Orthodox Christians were blown up in Cairo the F.O. was the very last organisation to make any sort of statement at all, and then a very feeble one.

    Whatever Hague is doing with the Free Syrian Army is not in my name!

    • tele_machus

      Is the use of Coffeehouse wall rather than Peter from Maidstone by means of advertisement of the site that I now see collects fees by Paypal?
      (but does not allow free posting)

      • Coffeehousewall

        Is the creep who thinks that the Female Genital Mutilation of young girls is a joke still posting here? Does he really wonder why any site run by any normal British person would refuse to allow him to corrupt it with his views about the abuse of women? How soon before he starts making offensive comments about the murder of young twelve year old Tia, which is also a cause for concern on the website he is manifestly and psychotically obsessed about.

        • telemachus

          We disposed of that slur last night.
          And within hours the site you advertise was collecting money.

          • Coffeehousewall

            Hardly a slur. You have continually insisted that concern about FGM on the www coffeehousewall co uk site is some sort of joke. Its clear what sort of creep you are. And the fact that you keep visiting a site at which you are not welcome, and then come here to post your creepy little reports shows that there really is something mentally odd about you.

            What on earth has it got to do with you how any site supports itself? You really are mad. The fact is that 21,000 visitors a month produces a lot of bandwidth that costs money.

            Do crawl back under whatever stone you have slithered out from.

            • tele_machus

              I wonder if the editors are as relaxed as you are keen to advertise your site with the Paypal button

              • Coffeehousewall

                You really are the creepiest troll that can be found on the net at the moment. Congratulations. Your views on female genital mutilation place you beneath contempt. Nothing you say can erase the humour you find in anyone being concerned about such hideous abuse.

                • tele_machus

                  I am truly astonished that you are unable to appreciate the inappropriate ness of using a respectable political blog to advertise your own exclusive site with the PayPal button

            • Percy

              Maidstone, even though you don’t seem to allow freedom of speech on your site you are well within your rights and eminently sensible to try and ask for donations via Paypal; what’s a bit sad is that some of your regular posters seem very reluctant to stump up; they don’t like PayPal (of course not it’s practical) and want to fob you off with the promise of a postal order or some other lame excuse.

              Maidstone, If you let more people post I might even give you some money, but the fact that you feel obliged to restrict the site to a very close knit bunch of loons means that the donate button on your site will remain firmly unclicked by me.

              • Nicholas

                Freedom of speech or the freedom to troll anonymously and abuse as we see demonstrated by your comment here, “Percy”?

                • tele_machus

                  “very close knit bunch of loons”
                  methinks this is why you stopped poting there-a good decision-perhaps Frank will see the light

                • Nicholas

                  I have long been a loon. In the era of the howling lefto-fascist mob I consider it a badge of honour, a measure of insurgency, a token of resistance to an oppressive orthodoxy – that presumptive and narrow deceit that seeks puerile comfort from believing all think as they do and all who don’t are loons. In short “Percy”, who must arrogantly use the term “Maidstone” rather in the verbally flexed power of an archaic, bullying schoolmaster or Flashman-era prefect addressing a smaller, weaker boy. It is after all “Maidstone” who has started a forum where people can express themselves outwith the orthodoxy. What has “Percy” done, other than spit venom? If he thinks he has something interesting to say he could start his own blog where freedom of speech could flourish. He might call it the “Blog of All Trolls” and they could then go there and howl together at the moon.

                • Percy

                  I love the fact that anyone who disagrees with you is a troll spitting bile.

                • Nicholas

                  No “Percy”, I responded to your comment, not the other way around. You didn’t disagree with anything but you were indeed spitting bile. Get the facts straight, eh?

              • Coffeehousewall

                Percy, you are free to post on the other place. But all new posters are naturally moderated and trolls are excluded. tele_machus posts here and there using 5 or 6 different personalities and so care is required to prevent him undermining the free speech with others enjoy. Trolls never exercise free speech, they are always lying, deceiving, working to an agenda and playing a game, often being funded to do so.

                • tele_machus

                  Please recognise this as a further advert and have your credit card ready when you visit this site.
                  Remember the moderator also tracks the internet providers you use.

                • Coffeehousewall

                  What a creepy little man. Since you have visited the site repeatedly you know well that asking for donations to run a site is different to having a pay wall and requiring payment. There is no pay wall so what are you going on about? Really. What is it that is so damaged in you that you have to go on and on in such a psychotic and obsessed manner?

                  And do you think that your IP address is not tracked on this site? The question is rather why you were allowed to destroy the character of the site, and are still allowed to post.

                • tele_machus

                  PS it is incorrect that I p[ost under different personas on Speccie but I do confess to posing regularly on coffeehousewall

                • Percy

                  Maidstone I have no problems that you want a site of like minded travellers but all I’m saying is that because of the restrictive nature of the posts you allow, all the walls resemble each other. Same posters, same points what, I grant you, was innovative at the beginning, even if you didn’t agree with much of it, has got very dull very quickly because it’s totally dominated by a tedious few and these very people who are suffocating your site are too tight to help you out.

                • Coffeehousewall

                  You are free to post on www coffeehousewall co uk. tele_machus is excluded as a matter of course. But other posters are treated on merit and are not deleted unless they are trolling. Trolls are excluded because they do damage a site.

                • Nicholas

                  What was that about spitting bile?

                  If you find it so dull why do you lurk there? I don’t even bother looking at sites that don’t interest me so it is rather obvious you have an agenda. It is also rather obvious that not being able to post your vitriolic comments there bugs the Hell out of you. Well named though – “Percy”. A right . . .

      • Ostrich (occasionally)

        Do you actually buy the dead tree edition of the Speccie?


        Then you’re part of the problem, aren’t you?

    • TomTom

      Politicians are Anti-Christian – and despise anyone who does not pose a threat of physical violence. They genuflect to physical threats

      • tele_machus

        Not sure that is fair
        Notwithstanding Campbell, Blair had an unhealthy God Streak

  • Davee12

    As a life long tory voter will not be voting tory with Dave and this crew. Here is another nail in that coffin,

    The free Syrian rebels are Sunni Islamist. If these guys win the Alawites will be massacred and so will the Christians. You can see why Assad is fighting tooth and nail. At least Assad is fighting to protect his ethnic group from a massacre. Exactly what is Dave and Hague fighting for? It is not me or this country.
    Lets take a look at Libya. The human rights violations in Libya by the rebels are being totally ignored by are masters. It is a bit embarrassing explaining to the British people why we backed a group who are as vile or even viler than Gaddafi. We also saw how the new Libyan Government thought about the people who helped save them. The desecration of the war graves, no apology, apart from the FO saying that the Libyan government has said it is sorry. No public apology from these guys, very telling.
    As for promises about democracy and human rights. They are worthless Hague, absolutely worthless. These guys will promise you anything to get what they want. As in the war graves above they will put 2 fingers up to you,

    Sad when our own government and political elites can-not see the obvious.

    • TomTom

      When Saudi money is pressed into their rear orifices they are able to dance to whatever tune the wahhabis want

    • SPF50

      The BBC report yesterday that Libya is now being run by “moderate islamists”.
      Can anyone point me toward a bigger contradiction in terms? Pure BBC idiotic genius…

    • anne wotana kaye 1

      Oxymoron – am I to be wiped off for that comment too?

  • james102

    The change we want in the Foreign Office is confidence they
    put British interests first, just as the US’s State Department puts their
    country’s interest first as does Israel and France.

    • Curnonsky

      Just a small correction – the U.S. State Department puts the needs of the “international community” well before its own national interest; the policy is known as “leading from behind”, I believe.

      • james102

        Depends how you define “international”.

    • LearnSomething

      Being an extension of the Knesset, the US State department puts the interest of Israel before the US’s.

  • Tarka the Rotter

    Hang on a minute – there are British special forces working covertly in a sovereign nation that has nothing whatsoever to do with us – the government are giving support to an insurrection made up of fanatics including Al-Qaeda – and you say the FO has changed under Our William? Don’t think so – the FO Camel Corps are still playing the Great Game and as usual it will end it tears.

    • David Lindsay

      Quite so.

      We are not in war in Syria.The side against which we have taken up arms by funding the enemy will retaliate accordingly. Why should it not? How could it not?

      This is William Hague’s second go at being in a Government which was catastrophically close to Saudi Arabia. Under John Major, Jonathan Aitken was made Minister for Defence Procurement because his patrons, the House of Saud, insisted upon it. The foreign funders of Islamist terrorism, then as now, actually dictated the composition of Her Majesty’s Government.

      Syria is on the front line as a victim of that terrorism. So is Russia. So is China. The side against which we have taken up arms by funding the enemy will retaliate accordingly. Why should it not? How could it not?

  • Billi

    Is that the former French mandate of Syria ?
    So another European war for us to prove what wonderful Europeans we are. “Down on you knees Hague. Show us yhou love us”.
    I am a Conservative and I hate and dispise this playing at being a player crap. The Forgeign Office reform or change !
    Not until they have the rope around their necks will the Europhile Mosleyite monkeys change.
    Our failure to remove the pro-Germans from the civil service at the end of the last war has left us weak and powerless.

  • Bruce, UK

    “Partners are now told they must commit to liberal values, particularly
    with regards to minorities. They will be judged, Hague insists, not on
    what they say but on what they do. This is the sea-change he has brought
    to the Foreign Office, linking British support for causes abroad to the
    maintenance of British values.”

    I believe the modern expression is ROFLMAO.
    For those of an earlier bent – John 11:35.
    The Gold Medal award for terminal naivety goes to…

    Seriously, what an idiot (I wrote idiot but that is not what I am thinking). The “Free” Syrian Army will have the Druze and the Christians and the “wrong” Muslims against the wall faster than you can say non-lethal support.

    • Bruce, UK

      Oh, and when they have finished the above it will be the turn of the “wrong” Free Syrian Army.

      • Bruce, UK

        Oh yeah, and the Kurds.

    • Michael990

      Just the same old Arabist FO stance, I don’t see that he has changed anything.

      • David Lindsay

        That’s the last thing that it is. This is neoconservatism, with no lessons whatever having been learned over the last 10 years.

      • SPF50

        There has always been a homo-erotic/romantic attachment to Sodomy Barbaria in the FO…
        With reference to the comment below, it may be “the last thing”, but that still makes it ‘one of the things’, doesn’t it, eh?

    • TomTom

      Yes I understand Hague is on a personal mission to bring Gay Rights to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Mali – he will be touring with Guido Westerwelle

  • Mancini79

    Adopting a daft voice not change enough ? Why is a 4-foot, bald, hawk representing an otherwise peace-loving people on the international stage ? Oh.. that’s why.. Why did we vote him in ? Oh we didn’t ..

    • 3Para

      Your comment is puerile and inappropriate – Hague is an intelligent man trying to do the right thing in a very difficult situation. Innocent people are dying in Syria and we should help if we can. Unfortunately I think the outcome might be as Bruce.UK describes but that doesn’t mean we can sit on our hands while Assad’s forces kill and rape at will. Also, you should study our constitution, we don’t elect our Foreign Ministers, they are appointed by the Prime Minister who is the person who can garner the most seats in our parliament. I would stick to comments about football matey, or writing film scores – that one about a pink panther was quite catchy.

      • Alan Eastwood

        Sorry 3Para, Your comment collapsed when you became puerile and inappropriate. This country believes in FREE SPEECH and thus we have to read comments we agree with and those we may disagree with. For the record I disagree, totally, with your decription of Hague. He is a warmonger.

      • Doppelganger

        Hague may be intelligent but he has no monopoly there and he still inspires little confidence. Isn’t the Yorkshire expression, when in doubt, do nowt.

        • TomTom

          Never heard that “Yorkshire” expression. More likely he’s a right mawk

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