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Updated: January 9, 2012 17:27 IST

Must not allow the drumbeat of war against Iran to become an inevitability: David Miliband

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David Miliband: ‘If we had known then that there were no WMD, there would have been no war.’ Photo: N. Sridharan
David Miliband: ‘If we had known then that there were no WMD, there would have been no war.’ Photo: N. Sridharan

‘Iraq was above all a tragedy for the loss of life, the loss of trust that came from the absence of WMD.'

David Miliband, man of ideas who contributed significantly to policy-making and strategising in the Blair-Brown era of New Labour, U.K. Foreign Secretary between 2007 and 2010, and an influential figure who has chosen to stay out of the Shadow Cabinet after narrowly losing the contest for the Labour Party leadership to his younger brother, Ed Miliband, was in Chennai recently to deliver a well-attended lecture on “The emerging new world order: economics and politics” at the invitation of Vijay and Preetha Reddy. The 46-year-old statesman visited the offices of The Hindu where he was interviewed, on a range of political and economic issues, by an editorial team comprising N. Ram, Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, Nirupama Subramanian, and Raghuvir Srinivasan. The interview is being published in two parts. Part I:

For a leading politician who made a very significant contribution, in terms of ideas and policy, to the rise of New Labour, how does it feel to be where you are?

I think for everyone in the Labour Party, it feels very frustrating at the moment. Because opposition is a permanent lesson in frustration; you can talk but you can't do anything. Britain now has quite a radical government. Some people thought that a coalition government would be centrist. In fact, this is a pretty hard-Right government in economic terms. The austerity plan that is being imposed across Europe is being replicated in the U.K. And so many of the most cherished aspects of British life are being systematically challenged by the government. So I see in my own constituency the reduction of poverty being reversed, the reduction of unemployment being reversed — and that's pretty painful. So the whole Labour Party is frustrated by [being in the] opposition. Equally you can't be in government forever! We had thirteen years.

There's a debate in the Labour Party about how we should understand our record in government, what we should be proud of and what we should apologise for. But I think it's very important to be proud of your achievements and humble about your mistakes — but always understanding that politics about future. So we have a responsibility to understand the fundamental ways in which the world is changing and Britain's place in the world is changing. And make sure we are able to challenge the Conservatives because in the end it's them who we have to challenge. It's a coalition government but it's the Conservatives who're the real enemy. We have to challenge them in an ideological and intellectual and political way.

What are the solid achievements of the [Tony] Blair prime ministership and the [Gordon] Brown prime ministership, in totality?

I think Britain was richer, fairer, and more confident at the end of thirteen years than at the beginning. And the fact that there were record levels of employment, notwithstanding the crash. That we were the first government since the [Second World] War to leave crime lower than when we came into office. That we were the first Labour government in a hundred years to finally introduce a minimum wage, which Britain never had. A government that transformed the National Health Service, [about] which, in the late-1990s, people were debating — will the National Health Service survive in the 21st century? A tax-funded, free-at-the-point-of-use health service, and we left office with a satisfaction rating of 90 per cent among patients. Not to mention the small matter of peace in Northern Ireland. I think you can forget these, you can even take these things for granted!

Obviously on overseas matters, I think there were some things that are consensually of credit. Notably in respect of overseas development where we reversed the factual position of reducing overseas aid spending. Most people would say that the Kosovo adventure was a successful one. And then you have very divisive conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think the Blair premiership gave Britain a sense of its place in the world which was modern and forward-looking — not harking back to Empire as the Conservatives sometimes did or harking back to isolationalism, which sometimes has been the problem on the left.

And the mistakes? Iraq?

Well, Iraq was above all a tragedy for the loss of life, the loss of trust that came from the WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction], the absence of WMD. And obviously if we had known in 2003 that there were no WMD, there would have been no war.

A lot of people knew that there were no WMD.

Well, no — I don't accept that. I'd like to see anyone saying that. Because even those intelligence services in countries which opposed the war, like the Russians, were firmly of the view that there were WMD. And people like Hans Blix, who subsequently has spoken against the war, produced three weeks before the war a 172-page document outlining the unaccounted-for contents of WMD. So it's not the case that there was a debate at the time about [President] Saddam [Hussein].

The debate was whether it was the right thing to do. Obviously, if we had known then that there were no WMD, there would have been no war.

There is a view among commentators, Andrew Rawnsley, among others, that Prime Minister Blair was pressured, to put it mildly — virtually forced — into aligning the U.K. with the U.S. position, notwithstanding the voices of dissent. And it was a U.S. decision that was pushed down.

It was obviously a U.S. decision and the tragedy is that all the focus was about the war, not about the peace. Ali Allawi wrote this book, Winning the War, Losing the Peace, about Iraq. I think that's a pretty good description of what's happened.

And Iran, how do you see it going?

Well, I've written in the Financial Times [“Risks of sleepwalking into a war with Iran,” David Miliband and Nader Mousavizadeh, December 1, 2012] that I'm very concerned about the drumbeat of war. I think that's very foolish. I support a twin track of engagement and pressure. But the engagement track needs to be revived. That's very difficult when there is truculent noise coming from Iran, which there is. But there is a massive set of divisions within the Iranian regime; they're competing against each in the way they play off each other against the international community. We've got to be smart about that. We've got to understand that while some of what is said is for foreign consumption, a lot of what is said by the different factions in Iran is for domestic consumption. I wrote my piece in the FT because I think it's very, very important that we don't allow the drumbeat of war to become a sort of inevitability.

Yes, you called it sleepwalking, in the FT piece. But this has got wider ramifications in the region. The Iraqi coalition government has just about collapsed, and it's left a Shia-led government of dubious status, to say the least, in place without significant opposition. What would the former invading powers say, or how would they see the prospect of increasingly explicit Iranian involvement in Iraq?

Well I think everyone, whatever position you took ten years ago, would say that the territorial integrity of Iraq needs to be respected, the independence of Iraq needs to be respected, the devolution within Iraq needs to be respected, the federalism needs to be developed. I think that's a very important point. I say very clearly, the list of negatives outweighs the list of positives since 2003, but the situation of the Kurdish regional government, the position of the Kurds in northern Iraq, is on the positive side in the last nine years. I think that one would enjoin the Iraqi leadership to develop its federal structure, and one would also enjoin the other powers to leave Iraq alone, to sort out its own problems.

Now you've got tumult in the Middle East, much of it in the name of universal values of human rights, of human dignity, and democracy, and personal freedom, and that's one of the remarkable things about the modern world, how ideas transition right through the barriers of the most repressive regime, and that is being played out in a very bloody way in Iraq. There was this terrible bombing yesterday [on January 6], and the spectre of Sunni-Shia conflict is horrific, really — but what you'd say to Iran is to leave Iraq alone.

You've been Foreign Secretary, that was in Gordon Brown's Cabinet, and you've recently criticised Prime Minister David Cameron for a ‘phantom veto' over the attempts to save the eurozone, in effect for walking away from significant engagement with the rest of the EU over this very significant and perhaps decisive matter — but what kind of issue does this make the EU within British politics?

Britain is unusual, has been unusual for the last 20, 15 years, for having a debate that is for or against Europe, whereas in the other European countries that debate hasn't existed. Now Euroscepticism is growing a bit, there's Le Pen in France, who is running on a pretty sceptical platform. But Britain still has, I would say, an illusion, or some parts of the British political spectrum have an illusion, that there's a future for Britain as the sort of Switzerland of Europe, or as an imitation Switzerland. Now I think that's really foolish.

But one has to have the humility, if one's on the pro-European side, to recognise that we haven't shifted public opinion in a pro-European direction; if anything, the other is happening. Now there are a number of reasons for that. One, the European Union has been consumed with a not particularly edifying constitutional renewal exercise, an institutional renewal exercise. Secondly, you can't really divorce the European Union question from the euro question; the travails of the euro have given the European Union a bad name, and threaten the European Union. But in terms of British politics, I think there's a short-term bounce for David Cameron in two senses. One, he's tried to claim that he's standing up for Britain, and secondly, the pact is as yet undefined; there is no treaty for us to sign, and that's why it was a phantom veto. He didn't actually stop the 26 other countries, 17 in the euro, and nine outside, fashioning a compact. What he said was he wasn't willing for that to happen with British consent, even though it didn't actually affect us; none of the rules would have affected the U.K.

So I think it will come to be seen as something for which Britain is in danger of paying quite a high price. The other thing to say is it's bad for Europe for Britain to be on the sidelines, not just bad for Britain.

(To be concluded.)

Involving in Iraq war not only caused the loss of life it also scripted the tumultuous economic conditions impending in Britain and USA. Not to forget uncomfortable phrases like "Broken-Britain" and "occupy wall street."

from:  Ajeet Tiwari
Posted on: Jan 13, 2012 at 09:54 IST

I dont know why US is looked up as Hero for displacing Saddam's Iraq regime but fact is Saddam was installed by US and was well funded and supported during Iran-Iraq war. US never condemned Saddam regime till he was their ally even for all the atrocities committed against Kurds and Shias. When he revolted against US they sanctioned Iraq but that only affected Iraqis more. US is cause of all the problems in Iraq today, during Saddam regime Shias sufferred at the hand of regime but there was no Shias-Sunnis conflicts, no bomb blasts, no suicide blasts. It all started after US takeover.
In any court of law the statements from individual/entity with affluent track record of lying and questionable credibility is not taken into account then why should international society believe in US prorpoganda against Iran?

from:  Mohammed
Posted on: Jan 10, 2012 at 12:25 IST

David is completely wrong about Iraq. Britain(Tony Blair) was not convinced that Bush had the right policy, but chose to support the US, in order to gain credibility with the British right! On Iran, I support his approach. For strategic reasons, India too should promote the idea of subtle pressure, rather than a military solution. Afterall, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will make Iran a key player to access the markets of Central Asia. Possibly, a Shia dominated Southern Iraq plus a Shia Iran may be a good counter balance to the Sunni dominated Arab region

from:  v v gita
Posted on: Jan 10, 2012 at 05:33 IST

As mentioned by earlier readers That Thousands of Iraqis were killed, But let me remind you that total number of causalities after invasion of western allies are more than 6,00,000. Also use of Black Water and Private agencies tortured can be justified by giving mere statement. When a person of these countries killed by anyone, he is termed as dreaded terrorist, But What about Erik Prince and other US Military Army personals tried in a international court of law.
So, Mr. David Miliband, don't fool the world by simply saying error of decision. Many conspiracy theories was developed by you guys in order to show your hegemony and dictatorship. It's about you people, "My way or no way"

from:  Shashi Ranjan
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 21:25 IST

Oh dear .. cant believe anyone would invite him to speak. The guy's a sycophant, new labour or neo labour as a political party is finished under him and his boss tony blair.

from:  mr singh
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 19:54 IST

Politicians would fool the world for ever. Someone had rightly said that wars are started & finished in the minds of people and not in the battle field. After well planned destruction of country after country & occupation of land and oil fields, the world economy has been greatly disturbed. Since the mis-adventure by the west in the past decade, the oil price has risen four times. Iran which is not a cakewalk for the west has threatened to attack west's interest in the Middle East. If Iran is forced to attack oil fields it would further drive up the oil & gold price thereby plunging the world economy into darkness. Leaders in the west never hesitated to tell lies about WMD of Iraq. And now about Iran, war has perhaps already started in their mind. May God give wisdom to the world leaders so that they do not plunge the universe into further turmoil.

from:  Akbar
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 19:07 IST

"If we had known then that there were no WMD, there would have been no war" You would have commented this on or before last DEC 31, could have considered as Joke of the Year...!...Even US, the main invader in Iraq to loot the poor country's effiiciency and to kill innocent lives including infant childrens and old ladies, would comment this soon....If possible, Try to avoid the possible massacre in Iran. If not possible, let the war happens and let US and allies kill the innocents, God will give the culprits....But Please do not comment like this after once happened...

from:  ShihabuNP
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 18:22 IST

During the course of the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan and Bush administrations armed Iraq in order to prevent Iran from winning and their successive governments shared strategic military intelligence and even authorized the export of toxic chemical and biological materials under the guidance of the Department of Commerce for Iraq's ambitious weapons and missile development and delivery systems. Then after a decade or so it was clubbed with Iran and North Korea as 'axis of evil' on grounds of possessing WMDs by the American government. Along with Britain which had no qualms in giving full support to the invasion that ultimately lead to a deadliest war claiming millions of Iraqi lives and creating an unprecedented amount of refugees and orphans. Ultimately Iraq's links to 9-11 or WMDs weren't established. Notwithstanding Mr.Milliband's claim that if only they had known in 03 that there were no WMDs then war wouldn't have happened, America would still have invaded Iraq.

from:  Vyjayanthi
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 17:29 IST

Iran want to destroy Israel, want to supply N technology to Muslim
countries. They must be stopped through oil embargo by the world. It
will break their back, I am sure and they will choose peace instead of
war.

from:  BC
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 17:25 IST

During the course of the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan and Bush administrations armed Iraq in order to prevent Iran from winning and their successive governments shared strategic military intelligence and even authorized the export of toxic chemical and biological materials under the guidance of the Department of Commerce for Iraq's ambitious weapons and missile development and delivery systems. Then after a decade or so it was clubbed with Iran and North Korea as 'axis of evil' on grounds of possessing WMDs by the American gov. along with Britain which had no qualms in giving full support to the invasion that ultimately lead to a deadliest war claiming millions of Iraqi lives and creating an unprecedented amount of refugees and orphans. Ultimately Iraq's links to 9-11 or WMDs weren't established. Notwithstanding Mr.Milliband's claim that if only they had known in 03 that there were no WMDs then war wouldn't have happened, America would still have invaded iraq.

from:  vyjayanthi
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 16:48 IST

Perhaps, Miliband needs to be reminded that the British Joint Intelligence Committee's (JIC) report in March 2003, which came even while British and US troops were surrounding the Iraqi border as a prelude to a full invasion, mentioned that "intelligence on deployment" of chemical and biological weapons by Saddam "was sparse". It also went on to say that "intelligence indicating that chemical weapons remained disassembled and that Saddam had not yet ordered their assembly was highlighted." But who's to hear this now: the thousands of innocent Iraqis who lost their lives thereafter? Who's to give them their lives back now?

from:  Biju
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 14:36 IST

"If we had known in 2003 that there were no WMD, there would have been no war". What a joke? do u want us to laugh on your joke Mr. Miliband?

from:  Roy
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 14:17 IST

It is uncanny how they can brush off the magnitude of disaster they have created! As a signatory to the ICC, justice demands that Mr. Blair stand trial in front of the ICC for his role as a head of UK, which perpetrated an unjustified and illegal invasion that was built on lies and deceit. Alas! our conviction for truth is poor, and we hang our heads in shame in front of the families who have lost their loved ones, and those who have suffered permanent damage due to the horror unleashed by UK and USA on Iraq. The hegemons are now repeating the same lies in the context of Iran too, but that won't change the truth - that USA will decimate anyone who stands in the way of their quest for power and domination - throwing justice to the winds. The UK, as its faithful lap-dog having no individual character, merely follows suit!

from:  Shariff
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 14:05 IST

Not sure whether to call it "Irresponsibility" "Irreverence". What sort of intelligence and substantial evidence led US/UK to believe that Iraq had WMD . Are they that stupid to believe that Saddam is capable of making a Nuclear weapon. Can't laugh enough. Irreverence I call it because after creating havoc in the lives of an entire nation and causing death to lakhs n lakhs of people they still have face to come and say the war wouldn't have happened. Shameless!!

from:  Karthik
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 13:52 IST

Mr Milliband's statements about the Iraq War are preposterous. Everyone knows that these statements about the presence of WMDs were manufactured to legitimise the war in Iraq and Britain was very much a part of that 'manufactured truth'. By giving some mere lip service now to the ill effects of that war and trying to think that people would believe their lies, is naive. The better option would have been to accept that both UK and US made a mistake by going into that war and bringing misery to millions of Iraqis as a result of their expansionist desires.An apology at least would have been in better taste.

from:  Tariq
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 13:34 IST

The American led Invasion of Iraq was necessary and Saddam himself was W.M.D. Removal of despotic Saddam & establishment democracy was the major achievement of American Invasion. The success of democracy has sowed the seeds of Arab spring, movements against dictators and movements for democracy. The loss of life was unfortunate consequence and it was mainly due to the ethnic strife . In the end it appears that G.W.Bush was a misunderstood visionary.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 13:24 IST

"If we had known in 2003 that there were no WMD, there would have been no war" by David Miliband. He wants all of us to believe that. So lets believe. :)

from:  Sakthi
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 12:12 IST

"If we had known in 2003 that there were no WMD (in Iraq), there would have been no rivalry between Miliband brothers within the Labour", would be more appropriate to say.

from:  GK
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 11:17 IST

World community now sincerely oppose American led Hitlerism which is destroying mankind and inflation across globe. Alas. Jai Hind.

from:  Magdum Ismail Magdum
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 10:19 IST
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