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Sunday, 1 September 2013

The British Parliament and Syria

For the first half of the 20th century, the United Kingdom operated in the Middle East on its own initiative. After the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One, it picked up League of Nations Mandates to run Iraq and Palestine (France got Syria). As is the way with the UK, at times it behaved well and at others badly - notably, during the 1920s, in using Iraqi villages to test new techniques of terror bombing civilian populations from aeroplanes flying free of any risk of retaliation. Iraqi villagers did not possess anti-aircraft missiles.

In the early 1950s, the UK co-operated with the USA to topple an Iranian government intent on nationalising the country's oil reserves. As a result, the Iranian people got the Shah and his secret police, the Savak.

But in 1956, the USA refused to endorse the Franco-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt, designed to stop control of the Suez Canal passing to the country it passes through.

Since then, the UK has only intervened in the Middle East to do America's bidding, however ill-conceived. So it was that we got involved alongside the Americans in the invasion of Iraq, tried to punch above our weight in Basra, and ended up both defeated and humiliated - and at the same time making matters worse for Iraqis.

In the past week, it seemed that President Obama had finally made up his mind to Teach the Assad Government of Syria a Lesson and was going to launch against the country powerful missiles fired into it from a safe distance in the Mediterranean or the skies.

Taking his cue - this is what the Special Relationship is about - Britain's Prime Minister announced that the UK would join in. We would fire some missiles too, at targets chosen by the Americans, thus demonstrating to the world that we still have the capacity to do that sort of thing.

Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, the British Parliament vetoed the plan. This is an important moment in British politics.

For the first time in a century, Parliament has backed away from the idea that the Middle East is part of our backyard - a place where we are entitled to topple rulers we don't like or teach them costly Lessons. In this case, Mr Cameron's plan was to kill some Syrians with very high explosive missiles to show that we disapproved of President Assad killing Syrians with chemical weapons which are Banned.

You can phrase it in such a way that the whole US-UK plan sounds like a tasteless joke.

But Parliament has also backed away from the idea of doing America's bidding. This is the main source of outrage among those members of the Conservative Party who see their role as working to serve the US. Mr Hague and Mr Gove are behaving a bit like teenage girls, who feel that their role in life is to do what their boyfriend wants. They are very upset to have been thwarted.

Finally, Parliament has backed away from the idea that We Know Best - that we can launch our missiles confident that we are going to make things Better for the Syrians. This is perhaps the most important outcome of all. The situation in Syria is awful, of that there is no doubt. But the realisation that we cannot guarantee that using our missiles will improve the situation may, in the long run, serve people in the Middle East better than "humanitarian" missile strikes which fail to achieve what they are supposed to achieve.

1 comment:

  1. Who would have thought that such a self important, self serving body could make such a sensible decision? (Unlike the PM who appeared to make up his foreign policy while sitting on the beach).