Friday, 30 August 2013

The government is defeated but no one should celebrate

The vote this evening is a moment of huge political embarrassment for the prime minister. Many will be thrilled the government has been defeated; we are not going to war with Syria. We will not fire a shot in anger, no matter what Bashar al-Assad does to his people in Damascus and elsewhere in that horribly destroyed country.

But in fact, for those who wish British foreign policy to be more than that of Lithuania or Belgium, it is a terrible result. It could well severely hamstring British foreign policy, regardless of which party is in power, for years to come.

Judging from the level of insults emanating from Downing Street officials, it seems pretty clear the decision not to make the vote tonight about authorising the launch of cruise missile strikes was due to Ed Miliband deciding to push to give the UN more time. The Labour leader was a f****** c*** (foolish chap) for tabling his own motion, but he was right to call for a pause. According to the timetable which appeared to be rushed from nowhere into the news schedules, tomorrow or Saturday we were starting to attack. With UN weapons inspectors still on the ground, no one knew why it needed such a short deadline.

The Prime Minister wanted to be strong. Presidents Obama and Hollande were keen to go; we don't have a presidential system. David Cameron knew he couldn't simply go ahead without support. But, he underestimated the bitterness left by Iraq. Like Poe's Raven, the shadow was on the floor; impossible to ignore. MP after MP complained how they were duped by intelligence reports and spin to support the Iraq invasion - forgetting the huge opposition and the multiple reasons why that war was so misguided - and yet the government offered a few flimsy sheets of A4 as evidence of the intelligence services certainty Assad was to blame. It was a hopelessly inept strategy.

Obama and Hollande may well continue with their Syrian adventure. It's hard to imagine a US leader, particularly Obama, rushing for support from Britain for foreign adventures, any time soon. Obama will make tender words but will raise his eyebrows at the farce. The special relationship is nothing more than a general election tag line; it has no contemporary significance.

None of this is any help to the people of Syria. Their suffering will continue. Neither Labour, nor any opponents, were giving succour to Assad but it's hard to think the Syrian leader won't be pleased by the farcical consequences of tonight's vote.

For make no mistake, the atrocities will continue in Syria. Already, there are suggestions a napalm attack has taken place in Syria. We won't flex a muscle. If a Rwandan-style genocide started tomorrow. A finger wouldn't twitch. Cameron won't risk such humiliation again. 

Is this really what we want?

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