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Has Ed Miliband given the world a chance for peace?

NewYork-Daily-NewsIt is worth recalling the words of Ed Miliband about Syria in his recent conference speech

The other week I faced [a] decision about whether the country should go to war. The biggest decision any leader faces, the biggest decision any Parliament faces, the biggest decision any party faces. All of us were horrified by the appalling chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but when I stood on the stage three years ago, when I became your leader, I said we would learn the lessons of Iraq. It would have been a rush to war, it wasn’t the right thing for our country. So I said no. It was the right thing to do.

Had Ed Miliband not shown the leadership he did, and importantly had he not been able to take his party with him, and to skillfully calibrate his parliamentary tactics to defeat the government, then within hours the American, French and British cruise missiles would have flown.

But by learning the lessons of Iraq, and avoiding a rush to war without evidence and without a long term plan for conflict resolution, Ed Miliband was able give the world a chance to find a different path.

We are now in a much more favourable position than we would have been had the attack on Syria been carried out. A Russian diplomatic initiative seems highly likely to succeed in ridding Syria of the Ba’athist government’s chemical weapons stocks; the five permanent members of the UN security council have agreed a common position; and most  optimistically the United States and Iran seem to be entering into a process of detente.

As Martin Chulov writes in the Guardian:

Hassan Rouhani’s overtures to the US and the west appear to be an attempt not just to re-engage, but to include many of the region’s intractable issues as part of a grand bargain that Iran could play a lead role in solving.

Top of the agenda at any meetings in New York is not likely to be sanctions that continue to cripple Iran’s economy but the crisis in Syria, which is battering Tehran economically and also poses an enormous threat to the new regional order that Iran helps underpin.

Despite the ebb and flow of the battlefield in Syria, the war itself has been in stalemate for more than 12 months, with neither side able to press home its gains. Mutual destruction in a savage proxy war seems far more likely for all stakeholders than the chances of a decisive victor somehow emerging from the ruins.

Iran is well aware of this, as are the Assad regime in Damascus, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, the US and Jordan, all of whom have at various points in the past 30 months tried unsuccessfully to manouvere the crisis to their favour. But rather than rendering diplomacy useless, this abject lack of success has reaffirmed that there is no other solution to Syria.

Relentless violence will not tip the balance in this fight – unless things continue to deteriorate in such a way that all stakeholders pile into what would be an apocalyptic all-in regional brawl. The consequences of such a folly are something that none in the region want to deal with.

And so, when Barack Obama stood down the US missile ships and Bashar al-Assad – under Russian pressure – vowed to surrender the most important strategic weapons in his arsenal, a moment of rare clarity emerged. Here, suddenly, was a momentum that Iran could safely join. More importantly it could add to a current of de-escalation by sitting down with arch foes, who had all stared down their barrels, and blinked.

Halting the escalation of military action was a great achievement of Ed Miliband; but we should also recognise the skill of Sergey Lavrov the highly experienced Russian foreign minister, and the alacrity with which US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has acted to grasp the opportunities for peace; and indeed the effort Kerry is putting into reviving a meaningful dialogue between Israel and Palestine.

Encouragingly, President Rouhani is also playing a constructive role. Several gestures from the Iranian president indicate a desire to normalise Iran’s international relations, such as the releasing of 80 political prisoners; and the statement of intent that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. Politics is a very difficult art, and Rouhani needs to both move forwards towards reconciliation, but also choreograph any accommodation with the USA in such a way as not to provoke a premature crisis with conservative hardliners at home.

It is worth saying that not only is Iran a society that has many repressive and oppressive aspects, but the sovereignty of the state and the authority of its political and religious elites stand upon the foundations of a violent revolution, and its brutal consolidation and aftermath. It is easy to look at contemporary Iran and find attitudes or Iranian government actions that are outrageous by British standards. I am sure it would be easy to find details of Rouhani’s past that implicate him in intolerance and perhaps even collusion in violence. Iran’s past cannot be changed, and the leading actors in Iranian politics are the products of that country’s history.

Yet peace and reconciliation is a process that involves seeking to move forwards from past conflicts and seeking a political alternative. The starting point is creating the political will – on both sides – for overcoming past differences.

The election of Rouhani vindicates an argument that I made in 2009 following the controversial election contest between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Iran’s constitution includes democratic processes, which while flawed, do allow differing political interests to be expressed electorally, and the process has proven itself sufficiently mature for government power to peacefully transfer between one party to another following an election. This is a system sufficiently robust to allow future reform and improvement driven by Iranians themselves, through peaceful means and constitutional reform. Given the depth of political division in Iran, then any outside intervention that makes conflict more likely is to be avoided. The terrible descent of Syria into barbarism is a stark illustration of the dangers.

By avoiding the political pressure towards Britain participating in Syria’s war, and thus preventing American military action that could have developed into a proxy war with Iran, Ed Miliband may have changed history, and allowed the prospects of wider peace.



  1. Robert says:

    Mind you we can take it to far and then we would be looking at a million dead, how far and how long do you wait before you say it’s time to act.

    The fact is Iraq has affected the way people act because like it or not the question is did our soldiers die to make a leader rich.

    We removed one dictator ex Puppet of America for what another puppet who allows the oil to flow.

    Afghanistan was more about America finding Bin Laden and hammering on the door of Pakistan, but again what did our troops die for.

    Syria is a serious issue but again like it or not the public are not sure who the two sides are Assad is a dictator but then again a lot of the people on the other side would be the same.

    The fact is millions of people will be affected by this, but then again if either side wins the repercussion to the people maybe a Muslim brotherhood sharia law or worse a dictator who will look for revenge and what could we do, help to change the dictators.

    I think let France and the other EU countries have a go.

  2. swatantra says:

    The fact is EdM never intended the vote to go the other way. It wasn’t through principle that he turned but because he knew he couldn’t take Di Abbott and most of his Party with him; it was a Comedy of Errors that led to a sea change in the way we view future conflicts and intervention. No longer can we be America’s Poodle.

  3. Robert says:

    Lets send Blair and all those who voted for Iraq out to solve it.

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