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 Labour Party: Stained With Blood

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تاريخ التسجيل : 07/10/2009
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مُساهمةموضوع: Labour Party: Stained With Blood    الجمعة 01 أكتوبر 2010, 03:31

Labour Party: Stained With Blood

So, it did turn into a ‘geek’ tragedy after all, at least for David Miliband.

Just as we were all digesting Brother Ed’s rather dull but worthy address to conference on Tuesday, and thinking that Labour had put the past behind it, a huge, ugly crack suddenly appeared in the facade of Labour conference unity. In a fatal lapse of self control, the defeated David turned to admonish his colleague, the deputy leader, Harriet Harman, for applauding Ed Miliband’s admission that the Iraq war had been wrong. “Why are you clapping?” said Miliband D, “You voted for it”.

Those eight words echoed around Manchester yesterday as David Miliband walked out of the shadow cabinet, the only action he could have taken. Had he remained, there was a real risk that a kind of civil war could have broken out. David Miliband wasn’t the only former minister to be outraged by Ed’s condemnation of their collective action over Iraq. Every member of the shadow cabinet is going to have to submit to the ‘were-you-clapping’ test now brother Ed has finally admitted on their behalf that Iraq was a disaster. How many, like Harriet Harman, privately agreed with him? Why did they allow it to happen?

With his “raised eyebrow” David Miliband was saying to fellow Labour ministers, in effect: ‘don’t think that you can just ‘move on’ and pretend that you had nothing to do with Iraq’. They’re all stained with the bad blood. All the members of the Labour cabinet, except for the late Robin Cook, voted in February and March 2003 to launch that invasion of Iraq, without a second UN resolution and without allowing the weapons inspector, Hans Blix, to finish the job of looking for Saddam’s non existent weapons of mass destruction. This was without doubt the worst British foreign policy disaster since Suez. But what is much worse is that tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians, lost their lives, and the infrastructure of an entire nation was laid waste. Selective amnesia won’t do when there are graveyards stuffed with the consequences.

Why were all ministers equally implicated? Collective cabinet responsibility requires ministers to back cabinet decisions once they have been endorsed by the majority. They are free to express their opposition in the cabinet room, but once a decision has been reached, they are obliged to support it, or to resign. This is how our system of government works. We now know that several ministers, like Jack Straw, privately expressed serious concern to the Prime Minister,Tony Blair. He ignored them of course. But only the former foreign secretary, the late Robin Cook, had the courage of his convictions and walked out. Even the development secretary Clare Short,went along with the fateful cabinet decision - though she resigned later. And, of course, the invasion was endorsed by the Parliamentary Labour Party who drove it through a reluctant House of Commons.

Who knows what would have happened if Cain had been in the same cabinet as Abel? David Miliband clearly thinks that Ed is being cynical, opportunist and underhand in exploiting his predicament as a former cabinet minister who cannot now disown the war, whatever his private views might have been at the time. Moreover, David clearly suspects that Brother Ed would likely have supported the invasion too, had he been in David’s position Ed never had to wrestle with the issue because, conveniently, he was teaching abroad and didn’t enter parliament until 2005. Well, that is a matter for Brother Ed’s conscience. The new Labour leader has clearly persuaded himself that he would not have joined the war party with Tony Blair. That he would have withstood the pressure because he could clearly see that the invasion of Iraq was wrong. Possession of twenty twenty hindsight is of course an essential qualification for high office in modern politics.

But the more serious question is why Labour made such a disastrous move in the first place. Invading a sovereign country, without any kind of justification in international law in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there. And if they could make such a terrible decision then, what is to say they couldn’t do the same again? What is it about Labour ministers that makes them follow leaders when they are so clearly in the wrong, as Tony Blair was over Iraq, and so clearly out of step with public opinion. A succession of opinion polls in 2002/3 showed there was immense popular opposition to the headlong rush to war. On the eve of the invasion, a BBC/ICM poll of 1000 people indicated that fewer than 10% - one in ten - of the British people believed it was right for Britain to go to war without a second UN resolution. 45% opposed the invasion even with a resolution. A million people marched against the war in February 2003 in one of London’s biggest ever demonstrations. The rest of Europe was appalled at America’s behaviour and condemned President George W. Bush as a danger to world peace.

Any notion that Labour ministers were simply responding to the mood of the times is a serious misreading of history. So just why did ministers like Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Jack Straw support the war when it was so clear that the government was out of touch with the country? Why did they carry on regardless? Was it the intelligence briefings about the risk of terrorist attack in Britain? No. We now know from the testimony of the former head of M15 Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, that the security and intelligence community thought that Sadaam posed no immediate threat, was not in league with al Qaeda, and that an invasion would make domestic terrorism worse. Still they went ahead.

As David Miliband embarks on his East of Eden sabbatical, the ministers he leaves behind should be asking themselves some searching questions. Now that Labour has come to terms with the past, it must ensure that never again does it go to war because of the headstrong enthusiasm of a leader who had lost touch with the voters and with reality. I can’t imagine Ed Miliband wanting to launch any illegal wars in the near future. But that only makes it that much more important for future Labour ministers to understand what went wrong and ensure that the leadership is kept on a tighter rein. Perhaps David might also give some though to that in his wilderness years.

By Ian Macwhirter

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Veterans' care to cost $1.3 trillion

The expense of caring for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is an unfunded budget liability for U.S. taxpayers that in years to come will rival the cost of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, lawmakers will be told Thursday.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee will hear new estimates of the cost of lifetime medical care and benefits for returning troops disabled by their service — a total of more than $1.3 trillion."It's somewhere between Medicare and Social Security in terms of its potential impact" on the budget, said Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat and committee chairman.

"This is another entitlement that we have committed ourselves to that is going to break the bank unless we deal with these issues as soon as possible," he told reporters.The committee will hear testimony from two economists, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University, and Mr. Filner will unveil a plan to establish a trust fund to build up cash reserves to help meet the future costs of veterans' care.

Ms. Bilmes said Wednesday that, with more than a half-million claims for disability benefits already filed by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — and close to 600,000 being treated in Veterans Affairs medical facilities — the cost of lifetime care and benefits over the next 40 years would be between $589 billion and $934 billion, "depending on the duration and the intensity of the wars."

The broad range of the figures, she said, reflects uncertainty about the numbers of troops who would be deployed in years to come. The Congressional Budget Office estimates, which she and Mr. Stiglitz used, provide for the deployment of 30,000 to 65,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2020.

Based on the historic experience of Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War, where increasing numbers of veterans have sought treatment or benefits for service-related ailments as years pass, "these costs are going to mount significantly over time," said Donald Overton, executive director of advocacy group Veterans of Modern Warfare.

He said the cost of disability benefits from the Gulf War, which lasted six weeks in 1991, is $4.5 billion a year and rising — and is unlikely to peak for many years. The peak years of the cost of benefits for World War II veterans, for instance, were in the 1980s.In broader terms, Ms. Bilmes said, 2009 Treasury statements make allowance for an overall liability of $1.3 trillion for disability and burial benefits for all veterans — a sum that does not include the costs of medical care.That figure "is quite possibility an underestimate," added Mr. Stiglitz.

He noted that the higher survival rates of wounded warriors and the larger proportion of veterans diagnosed with mental health disorders in the current conflicts likely would make the costs higher than in previous wars.The Veterans Affairs press office did not return phone calls and an e-mail requesting comment.Whatever the exact cost turns out to be, "there's no mechanism just now for meeting that liability," said Ms. Bilmes.

Mr. Filner said he is working on legislation that he hopes to introduce early next year to create a trust fund in which cash would be allowed to accrue annually to meet growing future costs.He said he is concerned that funding for veterans' care would decline as the memory of the wars fade over time."The cost … keeps going up even when the war is way over, so you need to keep building up a trust fund to deal with those issues," he said.

© Copyright 2010 The Washington Times.

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Labour Party: Stained With Blood
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