Comment at end
8th March 2010
Update: Rentoul, one of “we few, we happy few” also points up the fact that the Foreign Secretary didn’t get much press coverage for his excellent evidence session at Chilcot. Wonder why? Too good for press rebuttal? Too much food for thought? Too much clear thinking? Too critical of the UN? Too supportive of Blair AND Brown? Too well argued? Too right?
It is suggested that no-one was listening to David Miliband’s evidence to the Iraq Inquiry today. Probably because he is not the man whose neck fits here. But I suggest people should listen. Listen, watch and read.
Today David Miliband was particularly cogent and articulate. As foreign minister in Brown’s government he was involved in foreign policy decisions and actions relevant to the Iraq Inquiry only from Tony Blair’s departure in June 2007. Miliband held two senior ministerial posts under Blair from 2005 and has been touted as a Blairite favourite with possible future leaderships credentials. Today neither Brown nor Blair would have been disappointed with his account of himself, the Iraq decisions or the wider considerations.
At the Inquiry he dealt a well-deserved blow to the efficacy of the UN. He also took issue with some of the language used by Sir Roderic Lyne on his questioning. Sir Roderic has a propensity to interrupt in order it seems to throw in his own words of wisdom or countering phrase. In ddition he likes to throw in “facts” as he seems to think they have been proven (as according to others’ evidence.) This is a pity.
Miliband was not cowed by any of these tactics.
In his first question Sir Roderic immediately cast aspersions on the evidence given by Jack Straw, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The message was that the evidence of the former prime minister, that of Jack Straw and that of Gordon Brown somehow or other contradicted one another. Miliband pointed out that that was not the case.
I have no doubt that this line of questioning from Sir Roderic, who clearly knows which smoking gun he’s after, will please many; those who think that an international war crimes trial should await some of our politicians, or at least one of them.
Sir Roderic is always in pursuit of settling the legality/illegality question, and if he can push a cigarette paper between prime ministers/foreign secretaries past and present he will do his best. Daily Mail & Guardian readers take note.
I find the angle from which Sir Roderick Lyne often seems to come betrays his own opinions on the Iraq war. This is not to imply that he is the only panel member whose mind may already be made up, but unfortunatley he often gives the impression that he is taking the line of least resistance when he has an Iraq naysayer in the hot chair and being, to be generous, the devil’s advocate when an ~Iraq war supporter is being questioned.
To exemplify the bias I believe Sir Roderic displays on such occasions, I have highlighyted a few below, in red.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: We have had, in the course of hearing evidence, effectively three rather different explanations as to why we took military action against Iraq in 2003. Mr Blair, who had, of course, spoken publicly in favour of regime change, put a lot of emphasis on the risk that weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism would come together in Iraq and the necessity of warding off that risk. Mr Straw, in contrast, said that regime change would have been an improper and, indeed, illegal objective for British foreign policy and that the only justification he was very emphatic about this was Iraq’s presumed possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Then, on Friday, Mr Brown put his emphasis on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been in defiance of 14 UN Resolutions, in defiance of international law, and it was necessary to show that a dictator could not go on defying international law and to send a message to other states by taking the action we did. Now, why did you vote for the conflict in the House of Commons on 18 March 2003?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: First of all, I don’t see the inconsistency that you describe. I voted for the war because I think that the defiance by Saddam of the UN was itself a danger to international peace and security and the authority of the UN had to be upheld. I think it was very difficult to support Resolution 1441 but not follow it through.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Did you see Saddam as representing a real and present danger through his possession of weapons of mass destruction?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: Well, one of the things that I did, I remember, before the vote in 2003, was to go back through the Blix report, or one of them, because there were a number of Blix reports, but one important one was he issued, I think, a 174/175page report which detailed the extent of unaccounted for WMD. That was important in my mind, because, as I think all three witnesses that you have described explained, we knew what the stocks were in 1991. We had had successive engagement through UNMOVIC and other inspectors to try to get to the bottom of what was left. Saddam certainly went to no lengths to try to deny the existence of WMD, for reasons that we might discuss, and so I think it was clear to me that there was a prima facie case that he continued to have the …
SIR RODERIC LYNE: A prima facie case, but did this add up to a real and present danger?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: For me, as then a junior minister of the government, there was a prima facie case. We knew from his history the dangers that he posed to the region. I obviously wasn’t privy to the detailed presentations that were given to senior ministers at the time, and the Prime Minister obviously, from the security services, but I had watched Tony Blair, from the late 1990s, talking about the danger that Saddam had posed and I was confident that he would not have described them in the terms that he did if he was not convinced by the evidence that had been given to him.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: As Foreign Secretary, do you share your predecessor, Jack Straw’s, view that regime change is an improper and unlawful objective for British foreign policy?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I think that, as someone said to this Committee, I’m not a lawyer and I’m certainly not an international lawyer, so I wouldn’t want to ..
SIR RODERIC LYNE: You have very good international lawyers advising you.
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I have very good international lawyers advising me and certainly there was no current case where we are pursuing regime change as a matter of military policy.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Now, if the United States and the United Kingdom had not invaded Iraq in March 2003, do you believe that we would now be facing a situation where Iraq would be competing with Iran, both on nuclear weapons capability and in support of terrorist groups?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: That’s obviously a very, very important question and an unanswerable one. I think that there are two things that weigh on me on the well, three actually. Three things that I think are important in this regard.
One, the authority of the UN, I think, would have been severely dented. If the hypothetical case that you are putting is that we had marched to the top of the hill of pressure and then walked down again without disarming Saddam, then I think that would have been quite really quite damaging for any of the multilateral aims that we have that need to be pursued through the UN.
Secondly, I think that Saddam had a history of destabilisation in the region. As we might come on to later, I think that both Iraq and Iran had other fish to fry seven years ago than each other, if you like, and I think that the argument that Saddam was the best bulwark against the Iranians and that the Iranians were the best bulwark against Saddam I don’t think is a terribly strong case. However, I think Iraq had shown itself to be a potential danger and certainly the irrationality of what quite a lot of …
SIR RODERIC LYNE: A potential danger in terms of terrorism as well as weapons of mass destruction?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: One has got to be precise here. It is important to say that I have never seen any
evidence of AlQaeda linked up to Saddam Hussein or to Saddam’s regime. I don’t agree with the allegations that were made, I think, notably by VicePresident Cheney in 2003 that I can’t remember the exact word he used, but I think he referred to an epicentre of global terrorism. That’s not quite the right word, but I remember an interview he did on one of the Sunday morning American shows.
But nonetheless, the basic case, that the combination of countries that have both large stocks of WMD, or we fear have large stocks of WMD, that are themselves regimes that try to control things very, very tightly, but nonetheless are quite fragile, and, on the other hand, the growth of terrorist groups on the other is a particular and new kind of danger. I think there is to finish my narrative, the third aspect is obviously Iranian behaviour. I think it is very hard to make the case that Iranian support for Hezbollah or Hamas would somehow be affected by the presence or absence of Saddam. I think a lot of the Hezbollah or Hamas would somehow be affected by the presence or absence of Saddam. I think a lot of the debate with about Iran’s role in the Middle East, which tries to pivot on the idea that a constraint on Iran has been removed by the removal of Saddam, doesn’t really add up.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: When you take about the new kind of danger posed by regimes trying to develop WMD, on the one hand, and nonstate actors with international terrorist objectives, on the other, the question is: did Iraq represent this kind of danger in March 2003?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I think that the first of all, all the intelligence agencies of the world thought that he had the material to be a danger. He had the material to be a …
SIR RODERIC LYNE: He had the capability.
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: Well…
SIR RODERIC LYNE: He had the intent, rather. Did he have the capability to be a threat in March 2003?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: Let me say, first of all, he had the material. You can’t be a threat…
SIR RODERIC LYNE: He was presumed to have the material.
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: According to all the intelligence agencies in the world. So we were advised
SIR RODERIC LYNE: With the possible exception of the Russians.
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I understand that there was very strong unanimity about the danger that he…
SIR RODERIC LYNE: President Putin publicly said the opposite, but, other than him, yes, there was that perception which Blix had enhanced.
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: He had the material. He had the record, which I think is an important part of this. As for motivation, his primary motivation was obviously the strength and defence of his own regime, but he had shown a willingness to abuse his region in defence of that, and, of course, he had also shown a willingness to attack his own people.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Now, he had the intent, he was presumed to have some material, his capability had been hugely constrained since 1991 by a range of measures, not just by trade sanctions, but, much more importantly perhaps, by an arms embargo, by deterrence, by No Fly Zones, by a Naval embargo. Was military action, in March 2003, the only way of continuing to contain this intent, this threatened this desire of Saddam Hussein, to become once again a potential aggressor?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I think that, first of all, the sanctions regime, while you say it had done a huge amount of damage, it had also shown its own very severe limitations, some of which you have discussed. Secondly, the record, since 1991, had shown severe limitations in the UN’s willingness to follow through on the demands that it had made, and one of the striking points of the time is that, the longer the UN fails to impose its will, the harsher the measures required when it finally does impose its will. So 12 years after the 1991 war, the scope for new kinds of sanctions, new kinds of engagements, was severely limited. So I think that is the context in which one has to understand this, that the authority of the UN was significantly being undermined by its inability to impose or enforce its will. The bluntness of the or the limitations of the sanctions and trade mechanisms you mentioned, I think constrained significantly the number of choices that were available, in the context, where there was this very high degree of international belief, that he had WMD on a very large-scale, 174 page scale, as Blix showed.
One of the questions that I think is very hard to answer is why Saddam did not do more to show that he wasn’t actually the mass possessor of WMD that he had. The answer to that, I think, is that he didn’t actually believe that the UN would follow through, which rather makes my point that the successive failures of the UN to follow through on its commitments had weakened it in a rather profound way.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: You have referred twice now to the authority of the UN. Was the authority of the UN enhanced by two members of the Security Council deciding to take military action at a time when they had failed to get the support of the Security Council for doing so?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I just want to refer to my notes. The Azores declaration, listed as the second aim of the countries that I quote “to secure compliance with UN Resolutions”. So it is an interesting question whether or not the determination to secure the ends of compliance with UN Resolutions justifies the means of the that you describe. Now, there is no question that division in the UN I know you used the word “authority”.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: You used the word “authority”.
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I used the word “authority” and then you used the word “authority” in your question. Divisions in the UN were exposed by the vote, or by the runup to the vote and then the absence of a vote, and then divisions in Europe were exposed and divisions in the western alliance were exposed. I think that, given the Kosovo precedent, and the fact that there had been 12 or 14 resolutions based by the UN to get us to the point where we were, notably Resolution 1441, it limited the extent to which the authority of the UN was undermined by the action.
Secondly, the fact that the argument was made very clearly, notably in this country, that feeble follow-through undermines strong words, I think is significant, and that speaks to this quotation “to secure compliance with the UN”.
Finally, I think it is worth saying that I don’t feel today, in the work that I’m doing and that the Foreign Office is doing in the UN, that Iraq is thrown at us as a means of debating points or of undermining the work that we are doing, and I think it is quite striking the extent to which the waters in New York close over and work carries on. What I think is significantly up for grabs is the extent to which commitments like the responsibility to protect are going to be anything more than words on paper.
In all the debates about the UN and its role and its reform, I think this fundamental question about what the rights of sovereign powers are and the extent to which they extend into the territory of others, is still very, very contested in the international system. It was contested before 2003 and it remains contested today, and it pivots on this notion of the doctrine of noninterference and the Westphalian settlement, which significant numbers of countries in the international system adhere to, both for reasons of philosophy and vested interest, and other countries, including ours, believe is not a sufficient basis for foreign policy and international relations in an interdependent world, and this is a very fundamental point.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: While we are just looking at this broad strategic context, in a minute I want to come to the very narrow, or narrower, context of Iraq in 2007. In his evidence on Friday, the Prime Minister made frequent references to “rogue states” and “aggressor states”. Which are the rogue states and the aggressor states and are they the same thing or are they different?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: I think that he used the reference to “rogue states” particularly in respect of Iraq in the 90s. I think, if we are discussing this at the rather broad level, rather than the detailed level of Iraq, I’m very taken that the twin challenges of the international system today are, first, ungoverned space, where there is insufficient state power, and then spaces where there is overly strong state power; overly strong in terms of its own people or overly strong in terms of the international system.
I cannot claim authorship of this concept, but someone you know well, Robert Cooper, has written widely about the three distinctive geographical parts of the world, places like Europe where, in fact, we have positive sum international relations, but then the rest of the world, significantly being defined, either by ungoverned space and the foreign policy challenges that are associated with it and places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen come to mind but also states that are strong enough to test the authority of the international system. That is clearly happening in respect of the Nonproliferation Treaty and Iran’s 25 nuclear weapons programme.
I don’t call just for the avoidance of doubt, I do not sit here today calling Iran a rogue state, but it is a state which is seeking to defy the rules of the international system and I think that’s quite a significant thing.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: If one of the important reasons for acting in 2003 was, as you have said, and as the Prime Minister said on Friday, to deal with the situation in which the state was defying UN Resolutions, to send a message to what you might call this ungoverned space…
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: No, Iraq is an example, not of ungoverned space, Iraq is an example of a state that’s too strong.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Ungoverned space or overgoverned space, but to send a message, to what the Prime Minister called the rogue states and aggressor states, that this would not be allowed. Has it had that effect? Has Iran, for example, become a more compliant member of the international community as a result of the message sent by the action in Iraq?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: There is one very powerful example on this, and that is Libya, a very, very powerful example indeed. If you talk to anyone who was involved in the Libyan decision to come to terms with the international testimony, to effectively disarm after 2003, there is no question that the Iraqi example played an important …
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Are there any other examples?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: Hang on
SIR RODERIC LYNE: We had the Libyan example.
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: It is not an irrelevant example
SIR RODERIC LYNE: It is not unimportant, but …
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: it speaks directly to the question you asked. You specifically asked about the Iranian example. I think that the Iranian example is affected by many aspects of international relations. Remember, it is only since 2003 that the engagement with Iran has really been tried in a significant way, and it is only since 2009 and the arrival of the Obama administration that the US has been fully engaged in the engagement track with Iran.
I don’t think that one can complain either way the Iranian case today by the actions of the UN in by the actions in 2003. We will come, maybe, to the wider regional scene and the extent to which it changed 23 things. You can make a quite interesting case that the 24 religious authority invested in Qom is, for the first time, being challenged by Ayatollah Sistani and his followers in Najaf, and that is quite a big shift within the Shia world.
So it is a very, very complicated picture, but I don’t think you can say that Iran is in defiance of the NPT today because of what happened in 2003. Equally, I can’t say that Iran has been brought to heel by what was done in 2003.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: When you became Foreign Secretary in June, I think it was, 2007, you inherited what your former Political Director Mark Lyall Grant has described to us as a transition strategy. That’s effectively a strategy that was already by then geared to the objective of drawing down our forces. Was this a strategy which was reviewed under the reformed government of which you were a part as Foreign Secretary and was it a strategy in which we had any alternatives at that stage?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: Well, it wasn’t there wasn’t a capital R review, if that’s what you are asking, but of course, as new ministers, one surveys sort of lower case reviews. Just to step back for a minute, when I arrived in office in June 2007, I saw Iraq as, first of all, a responsibility; secondly, a problem; and, thirdly, an opportunity. As I prepared for this hearing, it is those three themes of our responsibilities in Iraq, the problems notably around security in Iraq and the opportunities, political, as well as economic, that have framed my thinking. The responsibility is obvious: we were party to the war, so we had to be party to the peace, and we also had significant responsibilities to our own people as well as to the Iraqi people. The problem was potent.
The day after the government was formed on, I think, Thursday, 28 June 2007, we had a Cabinet meeting on Friday, 29 June, and the Defence Secretary reported that three British service personnel had been killed the day before in Iraq. So the problem of Iraq was very, very clear. Equally, however, it was also a part of our thinking small in June, but growing since then that Iraq was a potential opportunity, and it was a potential opportunity because it had the potential to become a relatively wealthy, relatively pluralist society in the heart of the Middle East. It also was an opportunity and I think this is something that Mark Lyall Grant, Christopher Prentice and others have mentioned and I think it is very, very important. It was an opportunity because it opened up the possibility of a north/south axis through the Middle East, stretching from Turkey through Iraq down to the Gulf.
Now, since it is the policy of the government that Turkey should become a member of the European Union, we are looking at Iraq one day being on the borders of the European Union, and my immediate priorities in priority number 1, in 2007, was not Iraq, it was Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it was to Afghanistan and Pakistan that I went on my first visit, and I should be absolutely clear about that with you. But the second place I went to after on taking office, was Turkey and an important part of that visit was a speech I did about British support for Turkish membership of the EU, but it was also the case that Iraq was in my mind, because I knew there would never be this north/south axis unless the Turkish/Kurd issue was addressed. So something we will come to later, I’m sure I spent quite a bit of time on this Turkish/Kurdish question. So that’s a rather a roundabout way of saying that’s the scene as I saw it, but I do think this notion of the responsibility, the problem and the opportunity and how we moved from a focus on the problem the security problem in Basra was the focus and it shifted over time to becoming a comprehensive focus on our economic, political and military and cultural engagement with Iraq across the whole country.
So in that sense I can see two phases to the period that you are studying, the 2007 to 2009 period, a phase when the military focus on Basra was preeminent. It wasn’t absolute. We had the embassy in Baghdad, we had the consulate in Erbil, but it was the predominant focus, and I think, if we are honest, it was MoD led, this phase, because the focus was on security in Basra. But, today, the predominant focus is on our whole Iraqrelations on a comprehensive basis. So that’s much more FCO led.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: If we just look at that focus on security in Basra, the situation at the time that you became Foreign Secretary was, effectively, that we had lost control of security in Basra, we were on a strategy geared towards drawing down. The first stage of this was to withdraw from the city to the COB, and that, with slight variations on the timeline, was the path we then pursued to 2009. Now, did you feel at the time, you and your colleagues obviously the Defence Secretary in particular that we did have any alternatives? Was there an alternative option of bringing in additional forces to reestablish control of Basra before we continued with the drawdown and Provincial Iraqi Control and so on?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: That wasn’t really a sensible option. You say we, quote, unquote, “lost control” of Basra. That’s quite a pejorative way of putting it. We had, first of all, trained up the 10th Division of the Iraqi army and we were beginning to train up the 14th Division of the Iraqi army. Iraqi politics was beginning to germinate and the by December, there was the “famous” is the wrong word, but the important declaration of the different Shia groups about their commitment to the democratic process. That didn’t come out of thin air, that was in germination by the summer and autumn, and the those are factors. I think that the Chief of the Defence Staff has said to you the current Chief of the Defence Staff said to you in his evidence that he went to Iraq in 2006 and reported back to the government then that his exact words were that there was an increasing risk that we had become part of the problem rather than the solution, and he had sensed that since then. So I don’t think it is quite right to say we, quote, unquote, “lost control”. I think it is more that we were on a course that would lead to better security in Basra and we had never want to be there as a colonisingforce, we had always wanted to be there as a force that created a helped create an Iraqi set of institutions, military as well as political, that could do the business themselves. So I think, if I may say so, that’s the right way to see it. But as far as I was concerned I’m sure, I think, as well as the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary were concerned as well the path that had been set out by Tony Blair in February 2007 leading eventually to Provincial Iraqi Control was one that we were determined to make work.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: I think Sir Lawrence would like to talk to you in more detail about Basra in a minute, but what
I had in mind were things like the evidence we had from General Shirreff, who said that: “We had, in a sense, an exit strategy rather than a winning strategy. A winning strategy was going to require significant additional resources”, and it was that comment that I had in mind. Just finally from me, what were the criteria that were governing the timeframe for our withdrawal at this stage?
RT HON DAVID MILIBAND MP: Oh, it was very formal and laid out, as I’m sure has been said to you. The criteria for PIC, for Provincial Iraqi Control, are public and well-known in terms of the security situation, the ability of the institutions I haven’t got them in front of me, but there were four or five very clearly set out. It was a decision that required, first of all, the MND South East to take a view, then the Iraqis to take a view and the Americans to take a view. So there was a triple lock on PIC and there was no way in which it wasn’t going to be conditions on the ground that were absolutely key. Those were preeminently, predominantly the security conditions, but the political conditions were part of it as well.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Okay.
After an odd exchange where Miliband says, erroneously, that the Inquiry panel have not heard from Ann Clwyd (didn’t the papers Mr Miliband reads mention this? Oh, no, of course they didn’t!) we had this warning from Miliband:
“I think it is very important that we don’t learn the wrong lesson and the wrong lesson, it seems to me, is that Britain should leave international engagement to others, that the world is just so complicated and dangerous that we are better off retreating into ourselves. We are a remarkable country, not just in the breadth of assets that we have, from the softest of soft power of the British Council and the BBC World Service to intelligence and hard power, we are also plugged into a unique group of networks: the UN, the EU, NATO, the Commonwealth.
There is an argument about whether or not medium-sized countries should think of themselves as global players and I think it is an argument that is going to become more and more pressing in the months and years ahead, because of the temptations for politicians, never mind those concerned with the finances, to rein us in, and I think that ask a lot of those whom we put into harm’s way, and I think that the way in which the Prime Minister summed up the not just the gratitude, but the respect and the sadness, the profound sadness that is felt by people in government, was absolutely right. But, equally, we mustn’t be a country that turns our back on the world, because, if we do, because of the hard decisions that are faced with, we will be much poorer in all senses of that term.”
Julie has excellent coverage here of Miliband’s evidence with highlights and important points.
- Iraq Election – Democracy takes root in the Middle East
- More here on Miliband’s evidence
- David Miliband- Twitter