Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Britain and the tragedy of the Syrian Civil War

I have received a large amount of correspondence on the issue of British involvement in the Syrian Civil War, and I thought it would be sensible to put some thoughts down for constituents.

The complexity of the situation in Syria is well known – there are no outcomes to the civil war that are predictable or offer a stable future. A brutal dictator sponsored by a terrorist organisation Hezbollah, rogue states and armed by Russia or a disparate Free Syrian Army which incluldes Islamic extremists possibly including Al Qai'da elements and also standing accused of brutal war crimes.

Last week the House of Commons rejected the Government’s rush to military strikes. The Prime Minister failed to convince the Opposition and members of his own party that he had a clear and cognitive plan. The motion on the Order Paper failed to give due consideration to evidence, international law and was the start of a rash move towards action based on what appeared a preceeding agreement between Cameron and Obama that military strikes should happen that weekend.

The Syrian Civil War may well be 'won' by Assad and his sponsors. Will the west and the middle east region be better off having destroyed a palace or two and having Hezbollah at Assads side?

Labour’s motion did not call for military options to be taken off the table, it simply required a higher level of evidence and for international legal processes to be followed, more diplomacy. It is difficult to understand why there was an apparent rush to get a vote on this matter before the UN weapons inspectors had even reported which Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations stated should only have taken a few days more?

It was clear for older parliamnetarians that Iraq casts a long shadow over this discussion, and I think one lesson that certainly has to be learnt is that due process, legitimacy and international law should be taken as fundamental parts of intervention, not an inconvenience.

Government Ministers who tastelessly said that Labour was providing ‘succour’ to the Assad regime were reacting as if Labour’s call for more time and due process had scuppered the Government’s plans to finally solve the Syria crisis. Firing of missiles at empty palaces, factories or empty army bases would not solve the Civil War in Syria, and it would not end the killing by conventional weapons.

At this moment in time I cannot see the suggested military solutions reported in teh press as working and teh Prime Minister failed to clarify precisely what military action he was seeking permission for. Therein lies another criticism, failure of the government to be clearer about what we are trying to achieve, how they think it will be achieved and the acid test, make things better. MP's were no wiser at the end of teh debate nad we effectiovely had 'policy via gossip'.

There is an argument to say that we ought to respond to the use of chemical weapons through a strike simply as a ‘marker’ to prove we will not tolerate their use. I have sympathy with the motivation behind this viewpoint, as the taboo on the use of chemical weapons is an important one (though not one that has been policed unwaveringly in the past – even in Syria according to the JIC report). Striking a country to ‘punish’ them however, is not legal under international law. Moreover, the Syrian people want to see their brothers and sisters stop being killed, not just being killed by conventional weapons instead of chemical ones and this view has become more prevalant in the last few days.

The Commons vote may have left the UK against any form of military action, the threat of the possibility of military action taken off the table losing both a strong negotiating position.

This is all unsatisfactory. Cameron should have backed Labour's more moderate amendment, particularly after agreeing to the points within it and having been told by his own Whips Office he would lose his own vote. The PM's arrogance has left Britain would be in a far weaker position and undermined our relationships with our allies.

The Prime Minister has been rightly criticised for not making the case for action clearly enough, and for recalling Parliament in order to act rashly. A failure to submit a joint motion with Labour in the first place and assuming everyone agreed with Dave. For disengaging from his own backbenchers and for being 'out of touch'. Failing to put his ego to one side and accepting Labour's amendment as things slipped away druting the debate.