UK Politics

Why Is Cameron Talking up Arming Syrian Rebels When Parliament Would Vote Against It?

16 Jun 2013 at 18:02

I am far from being a pacifist. Indeed, I am a firm believer in intervention when there is a clear case that can be made. But whatever David Cameron says, that case cannot be made in Syria. It is a mystery to most people why Cameron is going out on a limb on Syria. It is not a country which is of great importance to the UK and yet the Prime Minister speaks as if it were. The murderous killings on both sides are truly horrific, and we are right to play a role in providing humanitarian aid, but to go further would be self defeating madness. At the start of the conflict it could have been argued that the rebels needed armed support because they didn’t have any. That is not the case now. Saudi Arabia is supplying all the weapons the rebels need. It is also now clear that even if we did supply them, they might well end up in very undesirable hands indeed. Some might say that is a risk worth taking if it would hasten the end of this bloody conflict. I do not.

Have we learned nothing from Iraq? In any conflict there is an end game. The only endgame here seems to be the end of the Assad regime. But what then? What comes afterwards? That’s the question Bush and Blair failed to answer in Iraq. They imagined democracy could be imposed and Iraq would live happily ever after. It was naive in the extreme. Surely we are not going to make the same mistake here?

It was a dreadful error for Obama to say that a red line would be crossed if chemical weapons were used. It invites the question, why are deaths due to chemical weapons worse than any others? So far more than 90,000 people have died. A few hundred may have been due to chemical weapons.

But Cameron has a much bigger political problem. If rumour is to be believed, despite his public gung-ho statements, William Hague is not the hawk on Syria he makes out. He is doing the Prime Minister’s bidding. In addition Cameron has a cabinet and a parliamentary party which are both deeply divided on the issue. At a guess I’d say both would be 70-30 or 60-40 against arming the Syrian rebels. Cameron must know that, so why on earth is he, at every opportunity, seeming to talk up the prospect? He has already committed himself to holding a parliamentary vote before any such decision is taken. We already know that Labour and the LibDems would vote against any such arming, so how does he think he could ever get a parliamentary majority?

It’s a bit of a mystery.

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