27 June 2019
4 July 2019

Politicians, for the most part, love to talk.

Their goal is to get your attention and, ultimately, your support. And most — from Trump to Erdogan — have a flair for the dramatic.

But sometimes, we just need to drown out all the political noise and listen to a voice of reason.

We need to listen to David Miliband.

Miliband is the head of the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian group that helps victims of war and persecution survive, recover, and regain control of their lives. He sees the turmoil in the world today and fears we have lost our way. And he says we have entered “an Age of Impunity.”

His message is that bad actors with little or no regard for human life “believe they can get away with anything, including murder, whatever the rules or norms.”

In other words: they do what they want because they think no one will stop them.

Keep in mind that Miliband is a former politician — he once served as British Foreign Secretary — so he knows the dynamics of policy building and the way in which those in power think and act. He has been there. And he is worried.

He says the world is plagued with “a new arrogance of power.”

Miliband says it wasn’t always this way — that the post-Cold War Era began with high hopes that world leaders were ready to take a stand against those who abused their power. He says starting in the mid-1990s, there was a new principle in international relations that “governments are responsible for the security of their own citizens, but if they don’t fulfill their side of the bargain, there is responsibility elsewhere and it will be taken up.”

The following decade saw the formation of the International Criminal Court to adjudicate war crimes and the passage of UN resolutions that questioned the limits of state sovereignty. The guiding notion was we need more than peace between nations to ensure international stability — we also need peace and stability WITHIN nations.

How far we have fallen. How tragic it is.

Miliband says since 2005, the pendulum has swung and accountability has been on the decline.

He cites one image to make his point:

“The new order is epitomized in the photo of Russian President Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Salman high-fiving each other at the G20 meeting in Argentina in November of last year. With Syria in ruins, Yemen in crisis and political opponents like Boris Nemtsov and Jamal Khashoggi dead, theirs was the embrace of two leaders unencumbered by national institutions or by the fear of international law.”

Miliband says he noticed the trend building on the international stage  during his tenure as foreign secretary from 2007-2010. He says he often saw Russia and China “defending indefensible actions” by governments that were their friends on the grounds that what a state does within its own borders is its own business.

Sovereignty first. No matter how many suffer.

And now that philosophy has an ally in the President of the United States.

Miliband says the Trump administration is “leading from the front” and that there has been an American retreat from “global responsibility.”

And with no one to take the moral high ground, a nightmare scenario is unfolding.

“Beware the vacuum,” Miliband warns, because it is “being filled by a range of bad actors, who are exacerbating a terrible price from the world’s most vulnerable.”

The statistics are chilling: the number of civilians killed in conflict zones is rising, so is ethnic cleansing and attacks on health facilities and health workers.

“You name it, we are seeing it, and seeing more of it, and seeing less outrage about it and less accountability for it,” Miliband says.

Just consider a few more images, this time of civilians.

How about the Sudanese protestors recently slaughtered in the dead of night by their government’s soldiers… the untold number of imprisoned Muslims in China… the bombed out civilians of Mosul, Iraq.

Or do we have to wait for such atrocities to occur? When a government cracks down on individual rights or when it lashes out at cherished freedoms, don’t we have a responsibility to speak out about that too?

David Miliband quotes statistics compiled by the NGO Freedom House that show more than 100 countries have suffered declines in political freedom since 2006 — the end of that decade that saw such a push for accountability.

And then there is this. Milibrand’s words came at an event celebrating the Fulbright Scholarships — one of the biggest and most acclaimed educational and cultural exchange programs in the world. In conjunction with his Fulbright lecture, the Policy Institute at King’s College London and the Ipsos polling firm surveyed people in 25 countries on their views on human rights and international relations.

The results are striking.  The United States (22%) is now seen on a par with Russia (24%) and Saudi Arabia  (25%) as countries most likely to use “their influence for bad.”

There was also a jump in the percentage of those surveyed who think the US is less likely to use its influence for good today than it was ten years ago.

“It should be shocking that the U.S. should be perceived to have descended to the level of Russia as a global spoiler,”  Miliband told his audience at the University of Edinburgh.

It is a speech that got overshadowed by much of the news of the day and did not get the attention it so richly deserves.

David Miliband is the voice of reason amidst the political noise of the day…  He is appealing to our humanity. Is anybody listening?



Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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