Miliband hits the foreign policy spot


2:48 am - January 15th 2009

by James Hooper    


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My suspicion that David Miliband was clearly a cut above the rest dates back to his implicit rejection of New Labour, invoking instead social democrats and radical liberals. These being easily my two favourite leftist traditions that got my mouth watering and his stance on the latest Israeli atrocities have been about as good as could be expected from a mainstream politician.

Today, though, he seals the deal by renouncing the ‘War on Terror’. Overdue?

Quite probably, but better five days before the Texas thugs departs the Oval Office than any time after. But it was his rather striking argument that cemented my affection.

In a crucial paragraph Milly opines that:

The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common.

Perfectly correct. Anyone witness to the absurd spectacle of sites such as Monkey Smashes Heaven or groups like the CPGB(ML) throwing their meagre weight behind the most murderous Islamists has seen only the least harmful examples of this tendency.

The Neo-Conservative myth makers rely upon an utterly baseless vision of their pet hate as a monolithic bloc of a religion, which only total capitulation to Western interests (ala Egypt) can redeem. That that is clearly not the case, and if this were to change the havoc would be vast. But policy based around this understanding risks distorting the truth to the warped NeoCon perspective, uniting the most extreme elements of multiple traditions.

Miliband has clearly taken British policy well away from such needless harmfulness, with sound alternatives proposed. As tempting as it is to indulge my inner cynic and declare this simply another instance of Atlanticist lapdoggery, I have to admit being deeply reassured by this article. A lockstep with Obama is no bad thing.

Labour are still a purge of James Purnell short of winning me back for good, but this article brings us closer than we’ve been for a long while.

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About the author
This is a guest post. James is a writer at Scribo Ergo Sum.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Realpolitik

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Reader comments


1. Alisdair Cameron

Hmm. To my cynical eyes, this is just personal politicking by Miliband, trying to reposition himself to ingratiate himself with the (slightly, only slightly) resurgent centre-left/’off-message’ element in Labour. He’s still got an eye for the main chance, and obviously doesn’t think Brown has a long future as PM.

It’s mainly spin: the problem with the war on terror lies with what it was called, and not with the grossly disproportionate actions taken, especially overseas, but also with the authoritarianism at home? Really?
Oh, and as Foreign Sec, he is in a position to do things, like stop the UK being Airstrip One, weapons exports to Israel etc
Afraid I’m not as convinced as you, James.

Yeah and Tony Blair also believes in peace. He said it, didn’t he? He siad he believed in “social justice” and a “vision of peace and prosperity”. La la la la land.

Milliband’s “implicit” rejection of New Labour???

Do you see things normal earthlings don’t?

Because I remember good old radical Milliband declaring the Iraq war “a success”…in fact, “a ‘remarkable victory’ which had brought democracy and security to the conflict-ridden country”. Milliband was in favour of the war in the first place.

James, with respect, but are you one of those with the habit of picking a random politician attaching your own hopes and values to him/her? So that if they don’t say something it’s “implicit”, and if they say it “they didn’t mean it”…?

I read your integral post again, James.
Good Lord.
I mean, this, THIS, makes your mouth water?

“”The UK supports an urgent ceasefire and immediate halt to all violence. The unanimous UN security council press statement overnight, and the EU’s statement yesterday, rightly argue for this position.

“The deteriorating humanitarian situation is deeply disturbing. As we made clear yesterday, Israel must abide by its humanitarian obligations.”

Asked if the Israeli attacks could be justified, Miliband said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that any innocent loss of life is unacceptable and in this case there have been massive casualties, some of them civilians and some of them children. That is one reason we have called for a ceasefire”.

Can you think of a politician who hasn’t come up with such hot air since the Gaza bombing began?
What was Milliband going to say that he’s enjoying the violence? “Bring it on”? “The deteriorating humanitarian situation is more than welcome”? Look how cagey he looks when they ask him about Israel!?? He doesn’t even spell out the word “Israel!…!

But I guess you think it’s implicit!

4. douglas clark

James,

The link to Millibands’ speech –

renouncing the ‘War on Terror’

is to a Guardian article dated 29th December. This is the 15th of January. So, it’s hardly today, is it?

Indeed, Mr Milliband should be going mental, for the quoted figures for deaths in that article was circa 300, and it’s now circa 1000.

Is it just a wrong link, or what?

Thanks Douglas.

Link changed.

Hmmm…Gordon Brown on tour, talk of an election this year, rumours before Christmas of a strategic offensive to re-gain the ‘Love, Actually’ liberal middle class voters they lost due war etc…and now this?

Sorry but where was Millipede when the US and UK were killing Iraqi’s as part of this ‘war on terror’? Where was he when terror attacks were used as justification for curtailing our civil liberties? Why speak now when a well chosen word or two years ago would have saved lives?

“Labour are still a purge of James Purnell short of winning me back for good, but this article brings us closer than we’ve been for a long while.”

Stop trying to justify voting Labour, with utter nonsense. This is the party that lied to the electorate, the opposition and manipulted the media to take the country to war in Iraq. You’re just another leftie hypocrite.

Who would have thought…I agree with chavscum. Wholeheartedly.

Claude: There seems to have been some misunderstanding. The article I was referring to in the passage that raised your heckles so is this one:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3671374.ece not the one the rest of my article was about. If you’d followed the link then that hopefully would have been clear.

Quoth the Milipede:

“…new Labour 1997 is not right for today. It is the absence of conviction not the absence of pragmatism that is the greatest danger.”

A fairly explicit revocation of Blairitism, I think we can agree. Yes he clings to this strange “new Labour” concept, but if his idea of this oddly semi-capitalised concept is something based around the principles of social democrats and radical liberals we aren’t likely to end up with anything like New Labour in present form.

The article I wrote about today rather than in the article from over a year ago which I linked to is another matter. Long overdue, but spot on.

Chavscum: ilvu2 :3

D milliband is the best foreign secretary we have had since Robin Cook; but that comparison shows how much is still lacking.

I do think its a shift and its a welcome shift. After all, its still a better foreign policy than what the Conservatives represent (ok, that’s not that much of an improvement but hey).

So I think James is perfectly valid in saying its an important and necessary shift. Our govt have been among the few in being for a ceasefire from the start on Gaza, which is quite impressive given their usually slavish pro-Israel stance. So what’s wrong with giving credit where its due?

David Milliband is more than seven years too late in discoverng that the War on Terror was a faulty, and dangerous, concept. Nowhere does he recognise that there were people already critiquing the concept in late 2001 and early 2002. Nowhere does he acknowledge that it was possible back then to see that terrorism couldn’t be dealt with through military force. Nowhere does he admit that a great deal of damage has been done in the last seven years.

It’s easy for Milliband to say now that the War on Terror was a mistake, because Obama is unlikely to take a “War on Terror” approach. But what will happen if Dubya’s brother becomes President in 2013, or if the neo-cons stage a comeback or if Israel bounces Obama into a reckless military adventure. Will Milliband then stand up for civil rights and international law? Or will he have another Vicar of Bray conversion? As it stands his critique of the War on Terror is too superficial to be convincing.

I’ve also covered this at my place and I’m cautious about endorsing his stance since it could easily be storing up problems for the future.

I agree that it is a potentially important, and overdue, shift. ‘Ditch the War on Terror’ (including persauding the incoming US administration to ditch it too) was one of the issues I flagged up in my own short 10-point ‘manifesto for the World After Bush’ last new year, and published at our January conference with David Miliband.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jan/01/tenstepstoabetterworld

My intention was to highlight a few issues to pursue across the last year. (there was, for example, some progress on the call for an Iraq inquiry last spring, but the details remain hazy). but it also seemed that the transition itself could be an important moment for a shift in the public politics.

My own view is that there has been an excessive focus on not offending the outgoing US administration (this is the FCO/diplomatic instinct: of course there is some point to that: there are active areas where diplomacy is still required, eg including just over the UN resolution last week, when perhaps tellingly the US dropped back to abstain at the last minute, though Rice had been preparing to vote for it).

There has been some more willingness on eg climate change, some development issues, Guantanemo to be clearer about disagreeements which are taking place, which is important to public politics, given how political these issues are.

I think the argument in Miliband’s article today has been implicit in what he has said several times in the last year, including for example in his speech to the Fabian conference last January (where he was stressing ‘no military solutions’ and citizens pressure and engagement). However, given that some of this is about the counter-productive messages sent domestically and internationally by a ‘war on terror’ argument, and some of it ought to be about the policy choices which flow from that framing, it is not an area where simply stopping using the phrase was enough.

However, a clear argument about why it was no longer being used, which can help to frame a broader shift of policy.

11. Sunny
Our govt have been among the few in being for a ceasefire from the start on Gaza
I disagree. To my knowledge most government aside from the US and Italy did call for a ceasefire from the start.
UN aside, they include: France, Germany, Russia, UK, Australia, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Canada, India, Republic of Ireland, Sitzerland, etc…

Please let’s not make it sound like Miliband did something extraordinary.

This is a man who has toed the line religiously since …since…he got into politics…

So what’s wrong with giving credit where its due?

How about an honest accounting of his time as a Minister and politician to gain a clear view how much integrity this shift has? I gotta say, been reading some things here and there and his brazen opportunism is more than a little transparent.

That said I’m sure, going by the moderate response here, this will be lapped up by his intended audience: former middle class Labour supports who’re just desperate to return to the fold.

He could, of course, just be experiencing a few troubles at home.


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