Listening to the House of Lords debate the government motion on responding to chemical weapons used in Syria, it was Old Men not sending Young Men to die, but a flea in the ear of the “Young Turks” of the government that knew nothing about the misery of war or what it was like to be boots on the ground. We were treated to reminisces as a child of having gas masks during the Second World War, one Lord mentioned Wilfred Owen’s “DULCE ET DECORUM EST” and then King Lear in the folly of thinking we could make a difference.
Whilst the debate lacked the commons political grandstanding, it missed a crucial point. The young of Syria are dying while old men talk we can do nothing. Dying because of conventional let alone chemical weapons; cluster bombs for example. Civilians being targeted, not insurgents or military troops. Massacred. The Commons could not even agree to try to exhaust diplomatic efforts before a second vote on military action to reduce chemical weapon launch capability in Syria. By 13 votes in The Commons the government motion was defeated. In the Lords about 90% of speeches were against military action – which roughly reflects public opinion.
Yes the motion was vague on what military action, debating before the UN inspectors report seemed suspect, and some MPs felt being rushed to a US timetable for action. That I believe was the clincher over the spectre of Iraq and weapons inspectors for MPs (maybe not for UK public). Prime Minister Cameron clearly did not know he lacked the votes to pass the motion – the whips office was a shambles over this. Despite Cameron’s elegance in making the case, it lacked the detail to persuade on the fence MPs that diplomatic efforts would be used before a wide ranging military onslaught.
I have made clear what approach I prefer, and it is not “shock and awe.” Quite simply it is a limited humanitarian intervention with teeth to reduce civilian casualties, with which to force Assad and others to the negotiation table at an international conference where failure to reach a peace accord would lead to further measures.
No fly zone
Refugee Camps secured and fully resourced
Safe havens and corridors established
To be honest I find it incredible that even this measure is hotly disputed by some. It is like the arguments I had over Bosnia as a student all over again. Then Kosovo as an undergraduate. The later causing me to flee peacenik German students when, after refusing to sign their petition against Kosovo intervention, I had mentioned when it came to ethnic cleansing they should be the first to support NATO with the weight of history.
The weight of history should not be confused with the white man’s burden. We have a military capacity to respond (limited but still there). The United States as the only superpower left has even more wide ranging capacity, and a historic legacy of having used Weapons of Mass Destruction to end a war to deal with. We cannot ask the past to forgive us by making amends for the mistakes of past foreign adventures that squandered treasure with the earth chocked on the blood that was spilt. It has to be a judgment call today with best information you can get. There is no certainty. Only if you and indeed others will live with the decisions you support.
We can see what is happening in England. The cry of enough of using our own resources to pay for others misfortunes, sending our children to die in distant fields, or return home maimed. The siren voices that doing something will not work, the solution is worse than the problem, we just do not understand the Middle East. That our actions will legitimise retaliation against us on our streets.
So forget the multiple nations that are resourcing the factions to an entrenched stalemate that could go on for years, to such an extent that using Chemical Weapons becomes viable in a blood soaked civil war. With that in the mix at what risk do you think Al Qaeda get hold of WMD if Rebels were responsible, or a fractured chain of command regime cannot secure for much longer? Lebanon looks to be engulfed into the conflict, the Kurds have enough instability to push for autonomy by force in Syria, much to Turkey and Iraq’s dismay, for a loose federation of de facto states across the region. The powder keg that is Syria is too dangerous not to be involved in.
Those calling for a conference with no intervention forget that the main players involved – Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia – have no desire for peace at the moment unless on their differing terms. This is a proxy war with too much strategic advantage to bargain away at the negotiation table unless someone can broker. I believe the US position is strengthened with the humanitarian intervention I call for, that fear of further US involvement may focus minds towards conflict resolution
President Obama knows if he goes it alone in intervention, he will probably never be forgiven by the Democratic Party – though France does seem keen to support. The Nobel Laureate has to act in the national interest. Showing that using WMD will provoke an American response is important – unless you want the rule to be do use as we chide you from the red lines.
Coming back to the discussion in the UK there was talk of handing over Assad to the international criminal court in the future. That is scant comfort for the people dead, dying and who will die. The tipping point should have been the massacres of civilians – the inability of the national government to safeguard it’s own citizens.
As I said writing about Srebrenica we wilfully fail to honour the legacy. That mutes my celebration of the return of parliamentary democracy to the UK.
Edit 1 September: See comments for link to President Obama’s speech from the Rose Garden on Syria.
To save anyone else on twitter misunderstanding the title – “little England” refers to anti-imperialist sentiments and an isolationist position in world affairs.
Little Britain would not have had the same meaning at all …
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog