Friday, 30 August 2013

Some thoughts on... Syria

I've been mulling over doing a piece on Syria for a few days but intended posting this (or something similar) last night but a combination of being out and being tired put paid to that.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here are a few thoughts. I daresay none of them are terribly original but if nothing else, it will help with my own thought processes on the subject.
Syria is not Iraq...

It's become a cliche to say this - but it's true. But whilst the situation in Syria is not analogous to that in Syria, Iraq is the prism through which this debate must be seen.
Labour have been shameless...
On Wednesday Labour managed to go from reportedly whipping an abstention, to being against an unpublished Government motion, to being hailed as having forced the Government into backing down and publishing a motion which would have required a further debate and vote in the commons once UN inspectors had reported and prior to UK involvement in any action.
Regardless of having obtained this concession, if such it was, Labour still proceeded to oppose the government and propose their own motion. In the end, both motions were, of course, defeated and Cameron - to his credit - has said he will abide by the result of parliamentary rejection of the Government's motion.
Miliband has played politics and won a short-term victory in Westminster, a longer term electoral gain (with former Labour voters disaffected after Iraq) but in the process he has diminished Britain's hand in the UN and in bilateral relations with our allies.
...and Lib Dem rhetoric on Iraq (almost) came home to roost
I wasn't a member of the party at the time of the Iraq war but I was very much opposed to it. For various reasons, though, I have always been uneasy about the use of the term "illegal" to describe it (and, by extension, the description of Blair as a war criminal). One of these it that the people who use the term are rarely schooled in international law but a more important one is that it precludes ever taking action not sanctioned by the UN.
If we had proceeded with Syrian action with the US and France but without (for whatever reasons) a UN resolution this would have been thrown back in our face no matter how deep the humanitarian crisis got or how justifiable the action.
The UN is NOT the be all and end all
Insisting that there should be a UN resolution before Britain is ever committed to military action seems to me to be deeply flawed given the structure of the UN Security Council and the intransigence and vested interests of the Permanent Members, not least China and Russia.
It strikes me that we must retain the discretion to use force outside of UN Security Council resolutions; both in the interests of UK national security and where humanitarian need dictates. I believed that this could have been - ultimately - required in Iraq and I believe it still. The UN should be respected, resolutions should be pursued, diplomatic and other approaches should be exhausted - but the Security Council should not be relied upon as the ultimate authority. 
Conflicted is probably the right place to be...
One word seems to have been most apt to describe the attitude of LibDems I follow across various social media: Conflicted. Torn between witnessing ongoing and escalating atrocities and a reluctance to get involved; after all, Syria is not Libya.
Like many, this is where I was prior to the vote yesterday - and still am. On balance, I'm not in favour of intervention but think that some form of limited action was beginning to become appropriate. Now, though, we will be spectators as the US and France decide what action is appropriate.
...and a knee-jerk anti-action stance is almost as bad as a knee-jerk pro-action stance
I am, by nature, a pacifist - but a blind belief that military action and intervention can never be justified seems so unrealistic and idealistic as to be unthinking. The world is not how we wish it to be, it is as it is: deeply flawed and containing many people doing bad things. Sometimes there will be no moving forward if we just sit on the sidelines.
We need to be pragmatic and realistic when faced with situations such as Syria: hard situations call for hard choices - not easy, idealistic opt-outs.
We can all do something
The politics of this pales into insignificance when you consider the real impact on the lives of millions of Syrians. You can read about the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal and donate here.

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