After yesterday’s vote. August 30, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics, International Politics.
The result of the vote in the House of Commons on Syria, 285 votes against involvement in military action as against 272 for, are positive for a number of reasons. Here’s a few of them.
Firstly, because all the supposed ‘actions’ by the US or the UK are so entirely cosmetic, driven largely by domestic US political concerns. They – and this is known by everyone involved, whether pro or contra them, will make absolutely no difference on the ground. Their intention is not to damage the capacity of the Syrian state to prosecute its side of what is clearly a civil war. They assist those on the opposing side in no functional way.
All they are there to do is to reassert US ‘authority’ and in the most pointless way possible.
Secondly, because Cameron’s defeat and subsequent retreat points up the first. By being prevented from participating, and by a democratic vote, it pushed back against those who would underwrite the cosmetic action outlined above. Indeed there’s been something of a retreat even in Washington – not that that will stop some actions eventually. But it may yet underscore the futility of such approaches in this instance.
None of those arguing that Obama should be ‘tougher’ intend for US troops to land on Syrian soil. And that is what it would take – putting aside the likely catastrophic consequences of same for one moment – to seriously alter the nature of the conflict there. If that’s not going to happen, and the US isn’t going to push the regime over, then all is is effectively rhetoric.
Notably it was a defeat to Cameron delivered in part by his own, Conservatives were conspicuous in their antipathy to the prospect of intervention. This is a strand that has long been extant in Conservatism. Douglas Hurd exemplified it best during the 1990s, but I wonder is it now much more dominant as the right libertarian element becomes an increasingly significant part of the mix in that party?
Thirdly, it underscores just how partisan and self-serving Cameron and his circle were in their attacks on the vastly more cautious Ed Miliband. Whatever about Miliband’s own position, and there was no small political calculation in that, the nature of those attacks was both absurd and abysmal – and perhaps hinted in their extremity at the fact Cameron was going down to defeat. Indeed the more that comes out the more absurd the Cameron position – not least the charge that Miliband was ‘siding with the Russians’. One has to admire Jim Fitzpatrick who resigned as a shadow minister because he couldn’t accept Miliband’s proposals. Good for him, even if perhaps it was a little premature given the immanence of the government defeat.
Michael Gove et al made a right show of themselves, and crucially demonstrated their inability to accept democratic decision making. Indeed Gove’s partner Sarah Vine in attacks on twitter on those who voted against the government merely underlined how hollow the exercise was.
I am SO angry about today’s vote. No military action would have come out of it. It was simply about sending a signal. Cowardice.
What’s interesting is that Vine doesn’t appreciate the contradiction in her own words. If Vine knows that, and Cameron knows that then presumably Assad knows that too and can and will act accordingly. And what is the particular signal, and what would Assad have done on foot of receiving it? He’s unlikely to step back from attempting to consolidate his regime on foot of a ‘signal’, and all other options appear so much moonshine short of a more decisive military advantage to his opponents. And so the dance goes one.
As to the central issue of the Syrian civil war, given that no one actually wants to do anything very much about it one way or – and given that militarily there’s not very much that can be done about, short of the sort of massive intervention that characterised Iraq, it will continue much as it has done. But without in any sense wanting to appear to champion that regime, it is of a different character to Saddam and more importantly appears much less unpopular and – arguably, more stable (ironically the Syrian regime always appeared much more ramshackle than Iraq under Saddam – not so much in material terms, but in political terms, but it has proven remarkably resilient). And yet Iraq demonstrates that even in a context of a broadly loathed regime nationalist sentiment will emerge rapidly against those who intervene. What then of a serious effort to push Assad over?
But again, that’s not on the table.
So if the Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the disastrous and potentially catastrophic limits of hard power in relation to interventions, Syria appears to point up to the limits of soft to medium power. While having clear implications for the future exercise of British power, and in fairness other European states have been generally extremely leery of involvement, that – one would hope – will have implications further afield.