by Tim Marshall
Britain’s former foreign secretary David Milband has delivered a devastating critique of the USA and UK’s foreign policy in a speech in New York in which he made the case for interventionism and accused UK foreign policy of being gripped by “inertia”.
Mr Miliband, currently head of the International Rescue Committee in New York, said “The high price of the mistakes of the West in Iraq and Afghanistan have sapped confidence that western powers will do anything other than make things worse, and drained support for anything other than hand-wringing.” That, he added, “Is the explanation for the UK’s almost complete absence from the political as well as military battlefield.” He went so far as to say that the failure to help refugees in Lebanon and Kurdistan was “closer to a crime than a tragedy”.
In Britain the speech is being seen as a sign that Mr Miliband, who many thought was going to lead the Labour Party and become Prime Minister, is poised to return to British politics. This may or may not be the case but such is the speculation which swirls around him he could read the phone book out and it would be interpreted as a marker for the future.
More interesting is his take on the world, which is indeed a far more engaged one than that displayed by his brother, Ed, who having lost the recent General Election in Britain has resigned as party leader.
It was Ed Miliband who blocked the UK from supporting military action against the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons in 2013. This gave President Obama the excuse he was looking for to do nothing despite having had his ‘red lines’ obliterated in a cloud of poisonous gas along with much of his credibility in the Middle East.
The comments to graduation students at Harvard University suggest David Milband would have been far more engaged than his brother.
He said Britain had been unwilling to act in the face of Syria’s “descent into hell” and “In fact, many of the real dangers of intervention – triggering a refugee crisis, inciting extremism, prompting the use of chemical weapons – have happened anyway.”
He also said the Obama administration had disengaged from the world contributing to a growing crisis in global foreign policy.
His speech is a serious contribution to the debate about interventionism; it is also a reminder to the British Labour party of the talent they threw away.