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8 March 2010

David Miliband’s careful balancing act over Iraq

The Foreign Secretary warns against a "glib" approach to lost lives.

By James Macintyre

David Miliband’s position on the 2003 invasion of Iraq is in the spotlight today after an interview and evidence he gave to the Chilcot inquiry, the fullest report of which is by Andrew Sparrow in the Guardian here.

On the one hand, like Gordon Brown before him, the Foreign Secretary could not credibly disassociate himself from a war over which he did not resign from cabinet. And he presented an articulate defence of the invasion, controversially denying that it had significantly damaged UK diplomatic relations.

On the other hand, it is worth looking carefully at what else he said. Unlike Tony Blair and Brown, he certainly did not sound like a neoconservative sympathiser and he disagreed with the former US vice-president Dick Cheney that Iraq was an “epicentre of terrorism”.

In the preceding interview, Miliband went even further, dismissing the idea that the war was simply a success. As he said:

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That falls on two counts. One, it is too glib about the loss of life and the reverses. And it’s too black and white. There’s a ledger, and it’s still being added to. There is a positive and a negative. It’s a balance, and history’s version will be a balanced judgement . . . There are hard questions to be asked of anyone who supported the war . . . It would be stupid to pretend the balance is all on one side of the ledger. We haven’t lost the peace, but a lot of people have lost their lives . . . It was much easier to win the war than the peace.

In summer 2006, it was rumoured that Miliband privately opposed the position taken by Blair in supporting Israel’s war with Lebanon. Since heading up the Foreign Office in June 2007, Miliband has forged what Michael Harvey, writing in the New Statesman, calls a “post-Blair” policy, rejecting the misleading linkage between Islamic movements such as Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. His deepest private thoughts about Iraq, however, may remain an untold story.