Monday 14 June 2010

After Iraq

William Brett blogs on the Labour leadership hustings debate question on foreign policy after Iraq.


Asked how Labour's foreign policy should move on from Iraq, the candidates were split.

Andy Burnham acknowledged but gave the most robust defence of the venture, claiming it had transformed the chances of thousands of Iraqis.

Ed Balls asserted that we should "say sorry and move on", which was met with an audible gasp, although he brought the audience back on his side arguing that Britain should have strong relationships but be prepared to criticise friends, saying that applied to Israel as well as America.

Diane Abbott and Ed Miliband spoke out against the war, while David Miliband said there was no disagrement - that had it be known there were no WMD, there would have been no vote on the war - and tried to also bring the focus on to areas of foreign policy success.

Both Ed Miliband and Diane Abbott, shared a common theme: that values should drive foreign policy, and not the other way round.

America's role in the war was brought up by most of the candidates, with Diane Abbott defending herself from charges of anti-Americanism, saying:

"It is not anti-American to disagree with the policy of one, single American president. Of course there is Realpolitik, of course we have to look out for our self-interest, but we must still insist on an ethical foreign policy."

This was echoed by David Miliband, who added: "The worst thing to happen to Tony Blair was George Bush."

The questioner, James Densiloe, was given a chance to respond to the candidates' answers: "Well, it's a very difficult issue I suppose. Events tend to overtake politicians, so I wish you all the very best of luck."


Unknown said...

I had lots of respect for Andy Burnham's response last night with regards to Iraq looking at the premise of WMD's keeping Saddam in power and the implications of delaying intervention and the likely outcome of Civil war.

It was good to see a labour politician defend their actions and decisions over Iraq instead of making comment from the hallowed ground of hindsight.

Zio Bastone said...


Sometimes defending the indefensible may be unwise. Did Hitler cure inflation? Is that an odious analogy? Well Condoleeza Rice compared Saddam to Hitler, so she started it.

As I understand Burnham’s position, he voted for the war and doesn’t resile from that, arguing that 20M Iraqis now have hope. In fact, the population of Iraq is about 30M, of whom at least 1.5M have been internally displaced. Women in particular (slightly fewer than 15M) have suffered mightily since the invasion. And in any case that ‘hope’ is epiphenomenal: it wasn’t why Britain invaded. Or else why not attack North Korea, Zimbabwe or wherever?

As to hindsight, much of what we know now we knew then. We knew, for example, that the Bushies had Iraq in their sites long before coming to power; Cf Zvi Bar'el’s well documented articles in Ha'aretz. We knew that preparations for the aftermath were more or less non existent. We knew about Donald Rumsfeld’s earlier record on Iraq and we also knew that Harlan Ullman thought that ‘Shock and Awe’ was being misused. What we didn’t know then was that there were no WMDs. However, what we do know now (with hindsight) is that if there had been WMDs then the humanitarian and security situations in Iraq would have been even worse.

Ralph Miliband, who must be turning in his grave, famously described the basis for US action in Vietnam as ‘an enormous lie’. So here with Iraq. He also, equally famously, described Britain’s (lukewarm) support for that war as ‘the most shameful chapter in the history of the Labour Party’. So here with Iraq and New Labour.