Thursday, 15 January 2009

Miliband's confession: better late than never?

Has our Foreign Secretary finally grown a pair...? In what could be described as an extraordinary speech, given in a city still reeling from their most recent terrorist atrocity, David Miliband has delivered what could be seen as a crushing blow to the neoconservative ideology around which the War on Terror (brought to you by Fox and Halliburton) was built - he even went as far as admitting that the use of the phrase 'War on Terror' may have 'caused more harm than good.' He expands on this idea in an article published in today's Guardian newspaper, warning against seeing different struggles around the world as a
binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil...

A senior British government minister refuting the use of inflammatory language, taking an historically sensitive, nuanced stance on international relations, repudiating a militaristic approach to countering terrorism in favour of dialogue - surely this is no bad thing? Maybe so, but I used the phrase 'could be' twice in my first paragraph advisedly.

Firstly, there's the question of timing. In a sense Miliband's comments come at a very good time, and indeed were made in an apt location too. As a strategy to encourage India not to escalate tensions in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, this speech was undoubtedly sound. Given the massacre in Gaza too, where more than 1,000 people have now been killed as a result of Israel's offensive, Miliband's position could be seen as a brave reminder to Israel that there will never be a military solution to the Palestine conflict.

But maybe it's all somewhat akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Declaring the futility of the War on Terror (WoT) some seven years after its inception, having played a lead role therein, does appear rather odd, until you consider another quirk of timing. As the architect of the WoT prepares to leave office next week, it becomes a simpler matter to denounce the central tenet of his foreign policy. Indeed, it becomes a matter of political expediency given the incoming President's well-publicised opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and his reportedly more considered stance on engaging with the so-called enemy.

This is not to detract from the substance of what Miliband said and wrote - taken together the speech and article are the arguably the most level-headed comment on international affairs any British official's made in years. It's just that one's left wondering where the world would be if the UK had discovered its concern for human rights, its instence on
championing the rule of law, not subordinating it,
its welcome use of reason, whether the world would be a different place. Whether if, instead of supporting the wrongheaded US-lead invasion of Iraq, we could have prevented it from happening. Maybe, instead of continuing to supply Israel with military equipment which it's now using to massacre hundreds of Palestinian civilians as well as Hama militants, we could have held Israel to account over its obligations under numerous UN Resolutions and insisted on dialogue. Possibly, rather than appeasing a Pakistani regime for fear of losing their support in the fight against al-Qaida, we could have insisted that it did more to prevent cross-border terrorism such as that seen in Mumbai.

But then again, if we are to wish away the last eight years, we may as well re-write history, as TA Frank did in an excellent piece in yesterday's Guardian. As I think I've said before, would that it were so...

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