Friday, 30 August 2013


The war of the words, despite last evenings vote against military action without parliamentary approval, continues, while the war on the ground in Syria (and body count grows ever higher). Clearly the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan weighed heavily on MP’s minds in Westminster yesterday. Whatever the merits of the intervention or not with regard to the conflict in Syria are, we are all somewhere different to where we were in 2003. The fact that Blair favoured intervention swung some of my relatives to a position of opposition to intervention. Armed intervention in Syria with or without UN approval (which is unlikely with the Russian and Chinese veto) would be a risky business.

The Syrian situation is far more complicated than was the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan – in theory Saddam could have fled to exile, but, Assad has nowhere to go and neither does his constituency of support amongst the sizeable (and well armed) Alawite minority.  Last evenings vote of Westminster MP's against military intervention in Syria may send sizeable shock waves through the Obama administration. Whereas previously the Brits have tended to march in step with the US, this rejection of President Barack Obama's argument may well upset the special relationship for some time to come.

It can be argued this key event has been a long time coming, and save for Harold Wilson’s refusal to commit UK ground troops to Vietnam in the 1960’s (which was duly punished) it has largely been avoided (at least since Suez). Certainly before last night’s vote, the US administration appeared relatively relaxed about David Cameron's problems and any delays in the Brits joining the new collation. Now in the cold light of day things may be different, it may to too early to say whether or not the Brits have finally cast of their adoptive mantle of Uncle Sam’s poodle.

The trigger for any intervention has been the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Syrian regime, the latest of possible 14 instances of chemical weapons use,  may yet trigger a US-led military response. The UN route may be blocked with Russia and China very publically opposed to any military action, which means that the UN Security Council will be unable to give its backing to any intervention which may raise some questions about the legal basis for military intervention.

Any desire for intervention may relate more to Syria (and the strategic situation in the Middle East) than it does to the use of chemical weapons as such. They have been used before (on some scale) by Saddam Hussein, against the Iranians (during the Iran – Iraq war) and later against the Kurds. On both occasion the Western Allies (and the USA) said next to nothing as Saddam was their boy - he was only to become a problem later when he invaded Kuwait (triggering the first gulf war back in 1991).

Last evenings cross-party amendment on Syria called for legal evidence and UN inspectors reports to be presented before any decision is taken on military action are taken, something that most reasonable people would probably agree with as a reasonable and rational response to the crisis. Judging by the look on David Cameron’s face last night as the debate concluded in a government defeat there may be trouble ahead and the one sided ‘special relationship’ may be on hold for the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps finally the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq may have sunk in and days of the UK  strutting the stage and over extending itself by pretending to be a global player are over - it may be too early to say. That said, something needs to be done to bring an end to the increasingly bloody conflict in Syria – doing that will require UN approval (which is unlikely) and a plan (which may well be nonexistent if recent experiences in Iraq are anything to go by).  

So as the war of words continues in the West, the war on the ground will continue in the Middle East, the refugee crisis will get worse and the body count will grow ever higher. There was as far as I could perceive last evening only as slight if faint whiff of Munich wafting through some of the MP's in the House of Commons last evening - perhaps prompted by some of the friends of Syria (Assad); that said  the vote should not be an excuse of inaction or indifference to the plight of the people of Syria, as something still needs to be done. 

No comments:

Post a Comment