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Miliband’s Odd Libya Attack

The British general election is less than two weeks away, and the Labour leader Ed Miliband has chosen to go on the offensive over Libya of all things:

But since the action, the failure of post conflict planning has become obvious. David Cameron was wrong to assume that Libya’s political culture and institutions could be left to evolve and transform on their own.

Cameron was responsible for involving Britain in the Libyan war, which was an intervention that might not have happened if he and French President Sarkozy had not agitated for it, so it’s fair to hold him to account for that dreadful decision. What makes Miliband’s criticism hard to take very seriously at this point is that he strongly backed the intervention at the time, and supporters of the intervention emphasized that there would be no “post-conflict planning” nor any effort by the U.S. and its allies to stabilize the country after the regime was toppled. They considered this one of the main selling points of their war in Libya. What was supposed to have made the Libyan war better than previous intervention was that it would not have to involve the deployment of ground forces for any long-term mission in yet another foreign country, and so there was never any intention to make a serious effort to follow up the war for regime change with much of anything. Libya would be nothing like Iraq, except for the unnecessary war and regime change and the interventionists’ reckless indifference to the consequences of both.

Interventionists understood that there would be no support for the war if it seemed that Libya would become another prolonged, open-ended mission, so they made a point of insisting that no such mission would be necessary. As long as they could promise that the war would be relatively cheap and short, they could have their war, and then when the regime had fallen there was no appetite anywhere in the West for continued involvement in the country. So it is a bit rich for a vocal supporter of the intervention that helped to create the disorder and violence in Libya to find fault now with a lack of “post-conflict planning.” Like Libyan war supporters here in the U.S. or Democratic supporters of the Iraq invasion, Miliband can’t fault the government for the real blunder of pursuing regime change in Libya because he endorsed the government’s goals. Because he can’t reject the intervention in Libya without discrediting himself, he is reduced to complaining after the fact about the consequences of a war he backed all the way.

The odd thing about Miliband’s decision to attack Cameron on Libya is that it draws attention to the worst part of Miliband’s own foreign policy record. Attacking Cameron reminds voters that Miliband gladly fell in line behind the worst foreign policy decision Cameron made in the last five years, which underscores how useless he was as leader of the opposition in that case. Supporting intervention in Libya was Miliband at his most Blair-like in the worst possible way.

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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