Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, has not been idle since leaving government. Talking to Terrorists is his third book in six years, following on the heels of a volume on Machiavelli and his earlier insider account of the Northern Irish peace process. It is clear that his involvement in that peace process remains, for Powell, the defining moment of his career (others might disagree, given his role in the Iraq war, for example). Here, he seeks to put into practice the lessons he learned in Northern Ireland, explaining (as the book’s subtitle declares) ‘How to End Armed Conflicts’.
For anyone who has followed Powell’s various interjections in public debate, his prescription will come as no surprise. In his view, ‘We should always be prepared to talk to terrorists even if they won’t talk to us, and we should always be working to turn contacts into a negotiation rather than waiting until circumstances become “ripe”.’ According to Powell, ‘it is always right to talk’. This, he claims, is the most important lesson from history and one that governments must apply in the future – whether with regard to Hamas, the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Recently, he has also called for talks with ISIS.