Hope and Experience

The political dynamics of the Syria issue

For once the Peaceniks have public opinion on their side.

For once the Peaceniks have public opinion on their side.

It was fascinating to see how rapidly Ed Miliband went from hero to zero on the night of the great Syria debate in Westminster.  Immediately after the vote, he was the man who had ensured that our democratic parliament had delivered a decision in line with public opinion.

Let’s be clear.  This wasn’t a matter of statesmanship.  No.  Miliband was concerned with keeping his backbenchers on-side (and it was a pity that Cameron didn’t give more attention to the same issue).  And Miliband wanted to embarrass Cameron — which he certainly succeeded in doing.  So we are looking at cynical party management and party-political tactics, not statesmanship.  Miliband’s position was all the less honourable since he seems to have given Downing Street the impression, until the last moment, that he would support the measure.  After all, it had been hugely diluted to take account of Labour’s concerns.  In a fine turn of phrase, Malcolm Rifkind accused Miliband of “being unable to take Yes for an answer”.

But how quickly the tables turned.  Soon the media were awash with stories about the damage to the “Special Relationship”, and to Britain’s standing in the world.  And it was all Miliband’s fault, for double dealing, and failing to act on principle.  Cameron would go to the G20 event “naked into the Conference Room”, forced to talk about humanitarian efforts and diplomacy, having been neutered in military terms by the Commons vote.

Of course the angst expressed by the commentariat was grossly overplayed.  Obama, as I write, appears to be facing difficulties in Congress, and a key reason for that is our Commons vote.  We perhaps have more influence than we realise.  If anything, we are leading world opinion.  Not just Russia, but the UN, the EU and the Vatican have all come out against military action.

But I am struck by the way that our political establishment and the commentariat have lost touch with public opinion.  Conservatives, and many in the Labour and Lib-Dem parties, are keen on military engagement, despite the fact that the public remains firmly against.  And it is the public — the voters — who will have to pay, some few with blood, but all with treasure.  And borrowed treasure at that.  It is also the voters who will be invited to re-elect the politicians who have sought to undertake an unpopular military adventure.

Let’s be clear.  Of course we all condemn the use of chemical weapons.  We all recognise that Sadaam, and Gadaffi, and Assad are (or were) thoroughly evil men.  Possibly even clinically insane.  But how many of us are convinced that Iraq and Libya are better off now than they were before?  How many of us believe that dropping bombs on Syria will actually make things better rather than worse?  The strong probability is that if we help to remove Assad, the next Syrian régime will be extreme Islamist.  Like the Taliban, it may well keep women indoors, shoot teachers and blow up schools.  Is that what we’re prepared to fight for?

This is not a cowboy movie where the good guys wear white hats, and the bad guys wear black hats.  It’s a contest between a dynastic tyranny and an Islamist tyranny (as it is also, to an extent, in Egypt), and I don’t believe that we should be taking sides.  They’re all as bad as each other.

Cameron’s hope of bringing peace and democracy to Syria by bombing Damascus is looking increasingly forlorn.  It is surely the triumph of hope over experience.

Interesting, therefore, that UKIP is the only UK party unequivocally against intervention.  And the only party backing public opinion.  Voters may remember that in the polls.



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11 Responses to Hope and Experience

  1. Steve Foley says:

    Special Relationship? Oh yes that is part of Disneyland as it disnae exist. The Yanks use the UK when it suits them but stab it in the back as at Suez when it favours them better. Time this silly idea was killed stone dead and if this does it then let us thank Ed Miliband for once..

    • El Inglés says:

      I have to agree with Steve. The Special Relationship is one way and always has been. My American friends – Democrat and Republican – all agree. US assistance to the UK in World War II was not free, its conditions being money and the break up of the Empire. Of course, the latter was inevitable but it did not need to be exploited by our notional allies.

  2. El Inglés says:

    If one studies the modern history of the land now called Syria, it is horribly pained. Indeed, to the untrained eyes of this Western observer, it seems the country has been least pained during the ages of Assad and his father. I’m sure both qualify as tyrants by our liberal Western standards, and abuses were rife. Nevertheless, our recent interventions in Africa and the Middle East should have shown us that military intervention fails to win the peace, or hearts and minds, and the world is a more dangerous place as a result, and the lands less fit for their peoples.

  3. omanuel says:

    There is, in fact, reason for hope. I can now state with confidence – based on almost seven decades of measurements and observations from 1945 until 2013 – that:

    “Human fears and violence reflect unawareness of
    The benevolent force fields that sustain our existence!

    Click to access Synopsis.pdf

    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  4. Me_Again says:

    We can hope. But we must also use the info in the campaign -if it turns out to have been a good idea of course…..

  5. What annoys me though is all the anti-bombing lot who say we should rely on negotiations.

    Get real – Assad is not going to negotiate and the UN won’t get involved while Putin has a veto.

    There are may good reasons not to get involoved (mainly that the alternative to Assad is no better), but please be honest and admit that staying on the sidelines won’t make things better either.

    • I don’t think anyone would say that standing on the sidelines was a solution. But if you have no solution, if the proposed action is as likely (or more likely) to make things worse rather than better, then doing nothing is the best policy. Of course we can use diplomacy, maybe sanctions, and certainly humanitarian aid to make things better. They might work, and they come without big risks and downsides.

      • Leo Smith says:

        Exactly. When the question is posed as ‘is it better to do something that will add to the death count and solve nothing, or do nothing’ the answer is blindingly obvious.

        Less moral ideology, more plain common sense.

  6. neilfutureboy says:

    I am unconvinced of the common genuflection to the idea that Assad is evil. He is essentially the monarchical heir of his father (who was extremely nasty). However he only succeeded to that throne when his playboy brother managed to kill himself. His chosen profession was to be a London doctor. This, to my mind, compares favourably with our friends, the Kuwaiti sheiks who spent Gulf 1 gambling in London casinos

    He has held and won a referendum to transform Syria into a pluralist democracy over 14 years and while in theory we might call for it to be done instantly does anybody think that is possible, or that the Saudi & Gulf funded al Quaeda thugs we support have any intention of doing it at all?

    If you are running an illiberal nation you cannot do so entirely peacefully in the way you can with a settled western democracy. But does he have less blood on his hands, forced by circumstances, than our leaders who helped the obscene KLA “cleanse” Kosovo, turned Iraq into a hellhole, put al Quaeda in charge of Libya and are helping them in Syria, have covered themselves with, unforced and of their own free will?

  7. Graham Brown says:

    The use of chemical weapons gave the West the opening they were looking for to intervene. It had more chance of being supported with a UN resolution than the conventional fighting in the previous 2 years. However, I am so glad the British public feel strongly against our involvement in another Middle East conflict. The parliamentary vote does not reflect that; it simply reflects rushed preparation by Cameron, woeful management of the Tory whip and Miliband being… well, Miliband.
    We have nothing to offer Syrians in their civil war except humanitarian aid for refugees. Our military input would help no-one, simply kill more bad guys and almost certainly some good ones as well.
    What really hacks me off is that the Arab League and other Muslim organisations should be taking the driving seat here – not relying on the West, yet again, doing the graft and getting sod all thanks for doing so and also taking the risk of attacks from Islamist nutters and others with vested interests. It seems like the Arabs and Muslims cannot help fighting among themselves but there is no justification for them to expect us to wade in. If, however, they ever dare to threaten or use chemical warfare beyond their own boundaries, especially against the West, swift and decisive retaliation is fully justified in my view.

  8. Richard111 says:

    Sorry this is OT. Here is a critique of President Obama on Fox News by Judge Jeanine Pirro.

    Some startling statements are made.

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