What now in the Syria debate?

by Ray_North on September 3, 2013

imagesI have to say we’ve had a right old ding-dong amongst ourselves on the issue of Syria – and I’m not surprised, this is an incredibly emotive issue, there is no perfect answer, no easy solution, whichever way you look, whether you intervene with military firepower or hope that diplomacy will prevail, there appears to be only the promise of more bloodshed suffering and death.

As I write this, it appears that the UK will not be involved in any military intervention in Syria, whilst the noises coming from the US suggest that if Obama can carry congress, then he will look to ‘degrade’ Syria’s military capability, which, potentially will see a much greater onslaught than was initially being planned.

Is Obama right to do this? Well, only time will tell – but, there is potential for more absolute disaster, with a prolonged war even more instability and a humanitarian crisis that is even greater than the one that is currently engulfing the region – of course, on the other hand, if he is successful, then Assad will be paralysed, the civil war will be over and some kind of new era can be ushered in (whatever that will bring).

One thing is of note though, and that is Obama’s decision to forego the use of his presidential powers and seek the approval of congress. The significance of this, is that the Americans will now have a debate on the issue in their parliament that will require a great deal of skill and a proper consideration of evidence if the President’s motion is to be passed. And that, one hopes will force the American government to pause and consider exactly what it want to achieve in the region and how it will go about it achieving that – something that has clearly been absent in the ill-fated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I hope that this decision by Obama heralds, perhaps, a new era in American international policy where the instinctive rush to use military might, that has been prevalent for many decades and has grown since the days of Reagan and Bush (junior and senior) is superseded by a more measured and realistic approach where America resist the temptation to simply bully anyone who doesn’t share their particular world view into submission. But, somehow, I doubt it.

And what about Britain?

The historic vote in the House of Commons last week will have implications as well. On a less important national political level, Cameron’s strength within his own party is diminished, whilst Miliband’s standing has risen in the Westminster bubble – though, interestingly, opinion polls don’t have it so clearcut amongst the population at large.

In my view, as we stated in our Prat of the Week award, the Prime Minister’s performance was appalling – he showed, not for the first time, that he is uniquely poor in his political judgement, whilst his arrogance is no longer just annoying and offensive, it is dangerous – if Cameron, had been a decent politician, he would have judged the mood of his party, his parliament and the country, resisted rushing headlong into a threat of military invasion and started the process of forging alliances with the Arab League and the Russians – but, of course, that is far too subtle for this most boorish and unimaginative of Prime Ministers.

And as such, Britain is left looking a bit, well, foolish and confused (though an alternative way of looking at it, which I do accept is that Britain is looking democratically vigorous and properly cautious).

Is that a bad thing? Has Britain’s standing in the world been reduced in the way in which Paddy Ashdown was squealing about to anyone who would listen? No, of course not, in fact, there are many in the world who will now look more favourably upon Britain rather than seeing us as an American poodle. Whilst, as my colleagues on this site have already said, the decision of our Parliament has prevented what may have been a very awful escalation of the situation in Syria.

So where are we now?

Well, Assad is still firmly in control of Syria. He still has chemical weapons and there is no suggestion that he is now less inclined to use them.

America are probably going to bomb him and that may of course change things, for, either the worse or the better.

Russia are able to sit tight and smug on the sidelines with Putin’s influence clear and growing.

The UN is shown once again to be a total unable to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.

The Arab League is still hopelessly tribal and riven with faction.

Cameron is still useless.

And, most important of all, the people of Syria are still suffering.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East September 3, 2013 at 10:04 am

One of the intriguing things about this debate, is that the leadership of all major political parties (unless we include UKIP and the Greens in that category) are and remain far more interventionist than the British public.

The Labour line, remember, was that we needed more time for (i) the UN weapons inspectors to report and (ii) to attempt diplomacy through the UN. The Cameron line was bomb now and bomb quickly.

Yet the public are overwhelmingly against British involvement intervention in any circumstances – only 18% support intervention in the most recent polling. This, I think, can only be explained as the legacy of the lies leading to Iraq and the endless and pointless involvement in Afghanistan.

On the polls, the Tories appear to have slipped a bit as a result and in Yougov at least Labour is back at 40% for the first time since the Spring. I don’t expect any of this will last – I expect a reversion to a Labour lead of 5 or 6% as we enter the conference season.

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Mike Killingworth September 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm

If the interventionists, whether of ‘left’ or ‘right’, wish to gain more support, they could do worse than explain how hitting Assad won’t encourage anti-Western Islamists. Who might of course finish up with Assad’s armoury in addition to their own.

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