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Ed Miliband and the Libyan War

Peter Oborne makes the very counterintuitive case that Ed Miliband has been a successful opposition leader. Among other things, he praises the Labour leader’s foreign policy record:

Ed Miliband is paying his biggest price of all, however, for his bold stands on Syria and Palestine. Neoconservative opinion (still dominant in the Conservative party and the Blairite wing of Labour) dictates that Miliband should axiomatically have taken the side of Israel over Palestine and of armed intervention in the Syrian conflict.

The backlash hit him particularly hard because it split the Labour party. The allies of Tony Blair have struck back, with Blair himself having accidentally blurted out his doubts about Miliband to numerous journalists. It is notable that all the leading Blairite commentators in the media appear to support David Cameron over Ed Miliband.

Oborne’s main argument would be more persuasive if Miliband weren’t extremely unpopular and perceived as unsuited to the job of prime minister. Even if one wants to credit Miliband with “bold stands on Syria and Palestine” (more on that in a moment), let’s remember that the government lost on Syria because intervention was overwhelmingly opposed by the British public. One can credit Miliband with not going against public opinion on an important issue, but then that is not exactly “bold.” Miliband benefited from Cameron’s overconfidence and foolishness in pushing for British involvement in yet another American military campaign. It didn’t require boldness to take this position. It required minimal common sense. The more recent measure recognizing Palestinian statehood was a non-binding one, and it probably would have been defeated if all members had been present and voted. I won’t say that it was a meaningless vote, but it is a lot easier to win a vote when the other side doesn’t even show up. If this is one of Miliband’s big successes as opposition leader, that underscores how few real successes he has had.

We should also remember that Miliband’s role in the Syria debate was not really as “bold” as Oborne claims. While he didn’t fall in line behind the government on intervention in Syria as previous opposition leaders had done (and as Miliband himself did on Libya), he didn’t really object to intervention in Syria as such. He just opposed doing it without U.N. authorization. This is how the “bold” Miliband could nonetheless back a disastrous, ill-conceived war in Libya without any qualms while technically opposing one in Syria two years later. Miliband’s support for the Libyan war is a huge black mark on his foreign policy record (as it is on Cameron’s), and one that Oborne oddly forgets to mention. As his support for the Libyan war shows, he is not that different on foreign policy from the Blairites that are rooting for his defeat. His support for intervention in Libya is a warning of the kind of foreign policy he would conduct in the unlikely event that he becomes prime minister later this year.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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