Iraq. Why, for some, sorry is the hardest word.

Following Ed Miliband’s speech in Manchester this week, Labour’s official position is that the UK’s participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake.  Some people are finding this hard to take  – our position until last week was expressed by many MPs as; “if I were presented with the same information now I’d make the same decision”.  But so what?  The question for today is; “if we’d known there were no WMDs and that there would be an unforseen bloodbath, would we have voted for the war?  This is to be wise after the event, of course.  But that’s the point.  Some people were wise before the event and want us to recognise that.  Ed did that in Manchester; people respect it and now we can move on.

I think some folk are finding it hard because to them it suggests a repudiation of all Labour achieved under Tony Blair; indeed of Tony himself.  Frankly, that’s daft and it’s to look at the situation through a Blairite/Brownite prism. And yet it is worth remembering how many of Labour’s most successful policies were based in the early days on metrics and evidence.  Remember Professor Michael Barber of no.10 with his charts and data?  Labour has always been motivated by ideology, but the scale of the early success in social policy was dependent upon well-planned and resourced execution (Ed Balls planned Bank of England independence for years). The Iraq conflict was motivated by ideology, but its execution was also ideological.  Every piece of advice from military experts, from Colin Powell to our own at the MoD, was that we would need to commit very large numbers of troops and enormous resources to the post-conflict phase.  Rumsfeldian dogma, if you will, was that it could be done quickly with relatively light forces – that would be cheaper and would free up troops for the next rather obvious target.

I think Tony was gripped by how Sierra Leone and the Balkans showed what well-trained and disciplined forces, like we have in the UK, can do to help people in far flung places.  But he became captured by the Bush administration’s warfare ideology and the rest is history.

Fast forward to today.  The planning assumptions of the Tories, I think, rule out any intervention on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan in future.  That’s why there’s such a spat between Liam Fox and George Osborne.  This new Tory assumption is built upon the harsh reality for Tony Blair that Iraq has rendered the kind of interventions he’d seen in Sierra Leone and the Balkans politically impossible.  That’s why the David Cameron was so bold in announcing a 2015 pull-out date.  And it’s part of why even Trident replacement in now in doubt.  It’s why Osborne is so confident.

So where does that leave Labour?  Well, on the back foot to be honest.  But we can fix that.  We’re in need of a new approach to the US and to European allies.  They’re all our friends but we need to ensure that as far as we can we are masters of our own  common destiny in Europe.  The US looks East as much as West these days, and when they look West it’s towards the biggest economic partners.  We need to construct a mature European perspective and capability – one which partners the US but is not ideologically subordinate.  There is indeed a lot we can do in parts of the world we’ve ignored, like the Eastern Congo, but it won’t be by large scale military intervention.  And if we want to protect jobs in the defence industry, we need to flesh out a larger theory of foreign policy and defence.

In the end, if you deify any human it’s going to end in tears.  At the Chilcott Inquiry, Tony Blair said the 2010 question was; ‘where would Iraq be today under Saddam?’.  For Labour in 2010, he was wrong and Ed is right.


  1. Saddam made quite clear before he was executed by the Iraqis that he would have again sought WMDs, and it seems unlikely that effective sanctions would have been maintained indefinitely.

    Nothing to do with Blair, or Labour.

    Just a reasonable estimate based on Saddam’s form, and stated intention.

    • But not a reasonable estimate of what resources were required. I’ve been to Iraq a number of times and I hope to God those people achieve now what they deserve. But it’s hard to imagine a worse transition from dictatorship to future affluent democracy. Our weakness is that we followed a ridiculous Rumsfeld plan which was ideological in execution and led to tens of thousands of deaths which wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Politically, it’s essential to recognise that. In my experience, people who opposed the war don’t, on the whole, spout “I told you so”. But there wee a million of them and their views deserve a bit of retrospective respect. Well, I think so, anyway.

      • The Clinton Plans, which I understood to have included paying the police and army after an invasion should have been followed.

        I posted to this effect on C i F at the time. Those who opposed the invasion online are pretty damn nasty about it all, and they played their roles in getting me banned from C i F too.

        Doesn’t alter the situation re the WMD junkie Saddam, or the islamo-fascists and their ambitions.

  2. I think its fair to say that we need to be looking forward now, not backward. I cant think any sane person would say that we should make the same decision, knowing what we know now. Which means that it is time to draw a line under Iraq, say we got it wrong – and most importantly LEARN THE LESSON.

    The post-war planning was very poor, and this is something which we should have stamped on. If that meant we didnt take part, and the americans went ahead without us, so be it. We should do things right, or not at all.

  3. It’s a fairly decent sort of post from a Labour MP, Brando, but we cannot just draw a line under “New” Labour on Ed Miliband’s say-so, especially when we are living with the consequences and likely still will be for decades to come, unless the people finally wake up and elect patriots to represent their interests.

    What was the *real* reason for the slaughter in Iraq? We were told different stories, but it was a war that was going to happen no matter what, for geopolitical and commercial reasons. Desperate to convince us, we were even presented with the “45 minute” warning and a dossier pinched off the internet that was written by a young student for a college assignment.

    We were told (MPs and their constituents alike) anything that would sell the case for war, whether it was WMDs, terrorism (Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda), getting rid of Saddam’s evil regime (why let him survive after Gulf War I?) and restoring democracy (even tho’ that is a job for them, not us).

    Hasn’t “it” always been about power and money? Iran could have had ‘democracy’ as well, but MI6/CIA manufactured a coup to remove PM Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 for nationalising the oil industry which had been under British control.

    The UK needs an independent military: especially completely independent of the EU. We must learn from history that we can only rely on ourselves. Let traitors also look to history!

    • Al Queda make mischief anywhere they can, and that is their business.

      Some realised that islamo-fascism – some of the refugee muslims I worked with pointed a couple out before the Twin Towers – was the menace it remains along time ago.

      A Bristol Poly lecturer in MSI in the ’70s had the danger identified then.

      • Quietzapple,

        Saddam had nothing to do with al Qaeda. Even if he had, would carpet-bombing a whole country be justified?

        Pity Labour didn’t realise the danger of Islamofascism when they decided to embark on their campaign of mass immigration to re-engineer society and “rub the right’s nose in diversity” (Andrew Neather, former advisor to Blair, Blunkett and Straw).

        Actually, I cannot believe they didn’t know what they were doing, can you? Which makes it treason.

  4. I can’t tell you how sad this article makes me feel.

    I stuck with Labour through the hard times when decisions like Iraq were being made, I believe they were taken by good people for the best of reasons. And I also believe that in fact they were the right decisions, and I continue to make that case to my friends whenever we start arguing about it.

    And apparently my reward for that loyalty is to get kicked in the teeth by Ed Miliband who somehow has convinced himself that if he was in government then he would have resigned to oppose the invasion.

    I’m pretty sure he’s no Robin Cook. Perhaps more of a Clare Short.

    So if this is how the ‘new generation’ treats those who have defended its hardest decisions, I can only really say, ‘well I’ll take my vote to another home then, thanks and bye’.

    And by the way, this is another of those classic anti-Iraq war articles which somehow completely fails to give any alternative course of action. Leaving Saddam in power was not cost-free and was also costing thousands of lives. If you think supporters of the war have blood on their hands, look down and check your own.

  5. how are you!This was a really marvelous post!
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  6. […] particular elements of Miliband’s speech. On his assertion that the Iraq war as a mistake,  Labour MP Eric Joyce […]

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