Syria vote not a disaster for Cameron

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The general consensus among the political commentariat seems to be that the Westminster vote on the Syria crisis has been a disaster for the Conservative government, the Prime Minister’s authority, and the United Kingdom’s position on the world stage.

Well, maybe, but maybe not. In the period leading up to the vote, Westminster was in recess and the Prime Minister was on holiday. It is impossible to know how well or poorly he kept in touch with events while away, but in the aftermath of the Syrian chemical attack, Foreign Secretary William Hague missed no opportunity to talk up the necessity of western action against the Assad regime.

It seems likely that Hague’s persistence was a factor in persuading the Prime Minister to recall parliament, and the Tory whips quite clearly did not have their fingers on the pulse or they would have warned Cameron of the mood in the country and among MPs. The defeat was an embarrassment, but is it the disaster the pundits say it is?

Consider Cameron’s reaction. He unequivocally accepted that parliament had reflected the will of the people and pledged to act upon it. The Defence Secretary almost at once declared that the UK would take no part in military action against Syria. It is hard to believe there had been time for policy discussion after the vote, so this was either a panic reaction or else quick thinking.

I suspect that the government realised the British people were tired of Iraq and Afghanistan, tired of soldiers being killed for no discernible gain, and tired of expending blood and treasure to assist corrupt regimes in faraway countries.

I think Cameron instinctively saw an opportunity to show that he listens to the people. It is possible that there might even be a long-term benefit for the government from Thursday’s vote, especially if other countries back away from action. US president Barack Obama announced that while all military preparations are in place, he will not give the order to commence operations until he has consulted the American people via Congress.

If polls are to be believed, Americans are no more enthusiastic about a Syrian adventure than the British. Obama knows this, but anyone who believes he would have “consulted” them had it not been for the Westminster vote is a true optimist.

The people of the western world grieve for the suffering of the innocent in Syria, but there is a civil war there, and it is not our affair. The so-called rebels who might benefit from western intervention include groups who do not wish us well, and who will probably, in time, be our enemies. They do not appear interested in peaceful oppositional politics, or religious freedom, or rights for women or minorities. Their conduct is no less vile than the regime’s and is limited in scale only by their lack of access to weapons.

The feeling in the West seems to be that we would not wish to be associated with either side in the Syrian conflict, and for once our politicians are listening.




Is THE tragedy not really a proxy war fought conveniently in Syria between the Sunni and the Shia?

Instead of looking to Bashar al-Assad and his jihadi enemies and the poor people stuck between, should we not be asking Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States what they are trying to achieve? We are nervous about annoying rich oil states who buy some of our exports, but – at least in the pages of The Scotsman – should we not look at the truth?

How would they define success? I assume it would be a rigorous Sunni regime that does not tolerate minorities What would this mean for a Syrian Christian, for example? Are the questions being asked by the Foreign Secretary or our ambassadors?

Sadly, we have no influence with Iran. Its campaign is to maintain a friendly government in Damascus. And the Russians? Probably all they want is influence and a naval base. But it seems they are only a part of the equation. In this context, the West has no great role. All we can do is help the refugees.

Hugh Mackay

Blacket Place Edinburgh