Friday 30 August 2013

Syria: After the Commons Defeat

I really detest the phrase, but last night's Commons vote that ensured the path to war with Syria is one that won't be taken is definitely a "game-changer". Here are my quick thoughts on the fall out - some domestic, some not.

1. It is regrettably true, Ed led his Parliamentary troops into voting against the government on technical rather than principled grounds. Whether he's a copper-bottomed shit or not, his opposition was based on tests involving standards of proof and legal justifications. It was neither principled nor based on an understanding of the specifics of the situation. Yet, the PLP was instructed to vote the right way for the wrong reasons. I'll take that.

2. Last night was less a victory for Ed Miliband than a catastrophic loss for the Prime Minister. In true Flashman style Dave was determined to bulldoze through on the flimsiest of pretexts. And a pretext last week's chemical attack was, because an intervention is something he and William Hague have been wanting for some time. Some have accused the Labour leader of playing politics. Of course, what is war but politics with cruise missiles? Things could have been very different. It was incredibly short-sighted of him not to back Labour's motion, especially when it wasn't a million miles away from his own. Had he done so the consensus he wanted would have been his, the road to military action cleared, and today the commentariat would be talking about divisions in the opposition. Not his own party.

3. Speaking of internal divisions, the Tory rebels have inflicted the most embarrassing and damaging defeat on him possible. No doubt in future they will be emboldened. Waverers who've gone with the whip in the past might be find themselves more inclined to being awkward.

4. I think it is a bit much to claim last night's vote as a victory for the anti-war movement, Lindsey German has done. But certainly the ghost of Iraq was busy on the green benches, rattling its chains in members' ears - even though, I accept, there are significant differences between what happened 10 years ago and now. Nevertheless as last night will embolden Dave's critics in the Tory party, I think it will have extra-parliamentary ripples too. For the first time in a long time the number one government priority has been derailed. Much show has been made of MPs "listening to their constituents" and polls have consistently shown big majorities opposed to military action. Coming after the brushing aside of mass mobilisations of the last decade - the anti-war movement, anti-fees, and the numerous anti-austerity campaigns - the defeat of the government while the world was watching could well give the politics of protest a needed shot in the arm.

5. What of the "Special Relationship"? Dave's inability to carry his own party in support of foreign policy aims can only diminish him in the eyes of the White House. The once-dependable Britain can no longer be taken for granted by Obama and his successors. A Rubicon has been crossed. No British Prime Minister can offer a carte blanche again.

6. "Britain has all the foreign policy credibility of Luxembourg!" moans Dan Hodges in his whiny resignation note. Presumably, so does Germany, Brazil and India for not contemplating intervention in Syria either. "Credibility" in geopolitics is not about one's willingness to bomb "rogue states" or even the size of the military, though of course that is important. Politics in the international arena is, as well as at home, concentrated economics. Britain is, as it was yesterday, one of the world's richest and largest economies. It would be difficult to name a country where capital from these shores hasn't been invested, or to find somewhere a British multinational isn't active. The days of the British Empire are thankfully long gone but it remains a key lynchpin in the international order. Silly hysteria from right-wingers and paid-for commentators does not render this fact of life null and void.

7. The situation in Syria remains grim. The Americans and France could still go ahead and administer their pointless punishment beating. In so doing they risk getting drawn in further. Either way matters will not be helped. Not one life will be saved, though attacking and weakening Assad's military capability could well prolong the conflict. If Dave was sensible, he could still play the respected statesman by turning away from war war to jaw jaw. Yes, if Dave is sincere and really wants to help the Syrian people he could throw his efforts into establishing and pushing a peace plan. Sure, it's not as glamorous as phoning up submarine commanders and telling them to launch. But it's infinitely more constructive.


Gary Elsby said...

Point 8:

Tony Blair the winner by a million million million miles.

Not only would he have secured a winning vote, he now looks the decisive Leader and prepared to put his God conscience to one side to hit back.

Atrocities will now pile up and Labour will look the appeaser.
Ed the cautious will only abandon that stance on the next atrocity that could have been stopped, oh but for him.

Proof certainly needed even to me but the case that rebels have chemical weapons is very very weak.

C_Oliver said...

"No British Prime Minister can offer a carte blanche again."

No British Prime Minister should have offered a carte blanche in the first place.

Speedy said...

Robin Cook's the winner, no?

It was a genuine paradigm shift - modern Britain came of age.

The rest will be forgotten when a new "crisis" comes along, but unexpectedly in this age of globalisation and cynicism the British Parliament spoke.

Parliament, poised in its uncertain coalition, felt obliged to listen to the People for a change, to catch up with where they're at instead of continuing to fancy itself somewhere around 1910.

A glimpse of hope in the face of a future that seems relentlessly grim. Thank you England.

Robert said...

UN inspector Carla Del Ponte on evidence that the rebels used chemical weapons.

ejh said...


Speedy said...

England, as in "speak for England Arthur". It's an overwhelmingly English parliament, English tradition, English population. George Orwell didn't write "Socialism and the English Genius" for nothing. The rest is genuflecting PC bollocks to quiet the 10 per cent of Celts who despise us anyway.

ejh said...

I am sure Robin Cook would have agreed with you.

Speedy said...

We've also had a few Scots PMs and a Welsh one, but that's not really the point... this is the English tradition so why apologise for saying so?

Anonymous said...

Not a game changer at all. Fundamentally 'our' nation is still the same bully boy it has always been and will support dictatorships if it sees its interests being supported and will moralise against dictatorship if it supports its interests. Syria is still not safe from these vultures.

The Syrians themselves are still pawns on the chess board. Their nation has been torn apart by imperialist intrigue, as has the whole region. We need the imperialists out and we need the Arab spring to reawaken from its slumber.

For 'liberals' like speedy the unwashed masses are there to be moulded and guided along the enlightened path by their 'betters'. They are not to be allowed to make their own society, with all the mistakes that brings. No they shall abide by our 'advanced' values!

Syria is a tragedy because a genuine revolt has been deformed into a bloody hate fest and the brutal bastard Assad still commands. The 'liberals' fear the Arab masses, because they fear so called 'Islamic radicalism' (i.e. the people). The masses will make mistakes along the way but until they are freed from their oppression (internal and external) no headway will be made.

This is why the Western backed military coup in Egypt was such a regressive step.

Down with dictators, yes to Islamic radicalism!

Gary Elsby said...

.....and on behalf of all lefties, down with chemicaling babies

Just saying.

Speedy said...

Anon - the authentic voice of the intellectually-bankrupt Left.

The "Arab masses" in Syria are not all liver-eating Islamic radicals pal. About 10 per cent are Christians for a start. 30 per cent are Shias and Alawites, whom your "radicals" probably hate more than Israelis and would happily exterminate.

Your perspective typifies the racist orientalism of the likes of the SWP who don't believe the Muslim "masses" know any better and have a secret admiration for the universalism of Islamism which after the death of communism appears to be the "only game in town".

You come from the perspective than "anything" is better than Western imperialism ignoring (being racist orientalists) that Islam is simply Eastern imperialism.

And you don't care because you don't have any other ideas.

Phil said...

Should've known our friend Gary would be cheering on intervention.

The only intervention that is serious, credible, and would restore Dave's standing in the world would be formulating and pushing a proper peace plan. He won't because "Dave doesn't do detail". He'd much prefer to fire and forget, thinking that somehow will tick the humanitarian box.

Interestingly, guess who supplied Syria with nerve gas chemicals 10 months after the civil war erupted.

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, I believe I made it quite clear that I did not know whether President (election winner) Assad had launched a chemical attack upon his own people because no-one proved it to me.

I'm a very important person and I need to be informed properly before any decision to bomb is made.

You mistake my intentions (as usual)for someone who does not consider politics properly.

I, like 650 MPs like me, need simple proof of evidence before making a considered opinion turn into a considered decision.

'I am a socialist, not a pacifist'.

Give me proof and I'll drop a Tomahawk down his bunker.

This is where I divert from proof, considered opinion and considered decision making.
I can now have a view of events and how they are likely to be played out or interpreted.
Not for me anymore the devout defence of Labour and Leaders under pressure. Not for me to shore up waverers (pacifists)in Stoke-on-Trent and not for me to absorb any inside or outside party political pressures from within a left wing leaning, Blair hating City.

Nope, I can have my own opinions free from personal criticism.
And this is it:

Bair wins on the next atrocity or proof of a past atrocity.
Blair is seen as decisive, Ed is seen as a weakling to Cameron's firmness (but fair) Lead.
Cameron needs no proof, Obama needs no proof but a few Tories and Labourists do.

Proving Sarin gas (not in your link) is still not good enough. Everyone has Sarin gas don't we?

Phil, it is one thing to know a bit about something to do with politics, like you do. It is another to understand politics, like I do.

Phil said...

Being criticised by Gary is like getting worried by a gumless sheep.

Gary elsby said...

Once you get through the utter claptrap of Wordsworth and Beethoven running in Tristram's newest contribution to democracy in today's literary outing, you will witness his crowing of powerful parliamentarians not being kidded into action.

Tough it out Syrian children, Tris wants street cred.

It is folk such as you Phil who denounce our free democratic press as 'Tory'.

What do you think our Tory press will do to Miliband when a gas bomb goes off in a marketplace (or children's home) in Damascus?

You should pray for US proof of nerve agents and any unilateral bombing done thereafter.

Any further chemical atrocity will see the Tory press destroy the left as cowards.
Remember, the General Belgrano was seen to turn away.
British design for a war was left unheard and Tristram's desire for today's truth is nothing unheard before.
Maggie and the Tory press all but incinerated Labour for two decades.

Nice poetry though, all the same.

Phil said...

More crackers rambling.

1. It is, in my opinion, incontrovertible that the Assad regime carried out the chemical attack.

2. It does not follow that flinging missiles into a bloody war zone will do anything. The case for "doing something" remains unproved.

3. The vast majority of the British public agree with me, not you.