To lay the demons of Iraq to rest Labour must rediscover peaceful internationalism

From the ashes of Al-Qaeda and the Ba’athite party in Iraq a new and more terrifying threat has emerged. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has already begun the process of annexing Eastern Iraq, executed over 1,000 soldiers and looted over $2 billion. They are now the richest terror cell in the world.

Tony Blair’s unhelpful comments on the current crisis miss the point – military intervention in Syria would have done nothing to calm the ISIS jihadist threat. The Free Syrian Army is fighting a different struggle, in a different country, for different reasons against different enemies. The failure in Iraq is a mirror of many of today’s conflicts – a failure to invest in long term peace and stability and unwillingness to redefine British foreign policy outside of traditional military intervention.

Labour has a proud history of internationalism. Organisations like Socialist International and the newly formed Progressive Alliance uphold the idea that the struggle of the working class is not just a British problem, but a global one.  The first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, articulated this concept best when he said: “our true nationality is mankind”.

Labour’s current strategy is to focus on the everyday concerns of voters with big policy announcements on rent, energy bills and the bedroom tax. If Labour wants to appeal to first time voters, disconnected voters and lay the demons of Iraq to rest it must also redefine itself as the party of peaceful Internationalism.

There are past experiences the party can draw on to achieve this. The Labour government started contributing to the international Conflict Pool in 2001, a pot of money designed to fund peacebuilding and conflict prevention initiatives across the world. The Conflict Pool was supposed to herald a new era in foreign policy, one that sought to address the root causes of conflict. This was instead overshadowed by 9/11 and the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The problems affecting the operational capacity of the Conflict Pool are numerous: a lack of transparency, funding and strategic direction have dogged the initiative since its start-up. Recommendations laid out by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact for improving the Conflict Pool have never been reported back on.

With reform, the Conflict Pool could become the centrepiece of a Labour approach to international development – ensuring that the principle of “Prevention is better than war” becomes the cornerstone of British foreign policy.

The conventional wisdom is that there are no votes in international affairs. I would like to remind Ed Miliband of one of the more profound reflections of his leadership.

“The most important lesson of New Labour is this: every time we made progress we did it by challenging the conventional wisdom.”

As ISIS marches across Iraq don’t be fooled by the war hawks saying it was lack of guns, bombs and soldiers that allowed this situation to escalate. Investing in a more peaceful world speaks to the idealist in all of us. Labour should be led by a peaceful internationalist spirit which can build stability, prosperity and influence across the Middle East.

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