Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Will we be saying 'never again' once more? Part two

* This is an update to an article first published by Metro here

Taking a moral stance, no matter how flawed and imperfect it may be, is sometimes easier than negotiating murky political waters. Being prepared to engage militarily with a state which has used chemical weapons against its own people is the right thing to do; but rushing headlong into such a campaign while the truth of such a heinous attack has not been established as surely as possible would be reckless and a significant failure of leadership.

Understandably David Cameron wanted to be decisive over the Syrian attack. He rushed back from holiday while Nick Clegg cancelled a trip to Afghanistan, where he was due to cheer up our lads on the front. It was fairly clear the recall of parliament was inevitable. And for days, the signals emanating from the government have been that MPs would be expected to decide whether to back armed assault on Bashar al-Assad and his military. And such action could even begin by the weekend.

This is no longer the case. Weapons inspectors on the ground are still trying to verify what actually happened in the Ghouta region, east of Damascus last week. They will not apportion blame. It seems almost certain a nerve gas attack launched by the Syrian regime is to blame; but, while UN inspectors will apportion no blame, it's worth waiting a few days for confirming details.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said inspectors needed four more days on the ground and the Labour opposition indicated it would not support an attack on Syria unless inspectors were given more time.

Some, bizarrely, started to claim Labour were behaving deceitfully and playing politics with a critical situation; but very quickly, once people gave it a moment's thought, waiting a few days seemed an eminently sensible thing to do. Not waiting for the report from UN weapons inspectors did Tony Blair's government no good as they rushed headlong into invading Iraq.

So now we are left with something of an oddity; MPs are returning tomorrow to express their outrage at events in Syria, agree a humanitarian response is necessary and that 'legal, proportionate' military action may be required. 

The motion criticises the UN for its inaction over the horrors of Syria and calls for necessary time to be given to inspectors to carry out their work.

Only the most pacifist will find a word in the document to complain about. Tomorrow's debate and vote has gone from something critical into a pointless charade; there will be no British involvement in action against Syria without a further parliamentary vote.
Full clarity is unlikely to emerge. We will only ever think we know that Assad's regime was responsible for the awful attack. But unless significant doubt is raised about the identity of the perpetrator, we still must take a stand. Our values remain unmoved. Finding political excuses to avoid taking responsibility now will only lead to regret later. 

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