I don’t trust the US and UK government’s argument for military action. I trust it less when I read informed comments such as that of the renowned Lebanese Marxist Gilbert Achcar, who has advised sections of the democratic Syrian forces, as well as the views of Haytham al-Manna of the Syrian National Coordination Committee. From what they say it looks as though there can be no military action from the US or UK that could benefit the Syrian democratic opposition. But I hope to look at that in more depth in the next day or so.
But one thing that I find unfortunate about what has happened with Cameron’s and Clegg’s defeat in parliament is the impression that they are now trying to create – that they are caring humanitarian leaders whose people, and whose parliament, were not as caring as they. An impression unfortunately amplified by those sections of the anti-war movement who believe that they need not address the issue of Assad’s tyranny.
But if Cameron and Clegg are not wonderful humanitarians, what are they?
Cameron’s “I get it” statement after the commons vote was just a little too hasty to be convincing for me. If he was motivated by a genuine desire to stop the suffering of Syrian people wouldn’t he, whilst acknowledging his defeat, have pledged to try and persuade Parliament of the justice of his case, one more time? Of if he had had the ability to properly gauge the strength of his Party’s right flank, wouldn’t he have accepted the Labour proposal to wait for more evidence before taking the decision?
So what exactly did Cameron ‘get’?
I reckon he ‘got’ that his UKIP-inclined dissident Tory MPs were too strong? And that if he was to get their agreement to any military action, he would have to couch such action more in terms of enhancing the British imperial image. But how do you marry up the pretence of humanitarianism with grubby national self-interest. After all, amongst the coalition supporters the Tory/ Liberal left and the nationalist Tory/ UKIP right are mutually repellent. To make an argument to persuade one would mean dissuading the other.
I reckon Cameron also ‘got’ that if you want to get electoral credibility from being a strong leader proposing audacious military action to the nation, you have to be a ‘strong’ leader in your party and you have to be able to deliver the ‘audacious military action’. He failed on both of those and his loss of credibility is already showing in the polls.
What about Clegg and the Lib Dems?
They have lost phenomenally in any credibility during their period in coalition government. The glory days during Kennedy’s leadership, when people were actually fooled into thinking that they were to the left of Labour, are gone. They are in coalition with the most right wing government since WW2. They may claim to be strong humanitarian leaders, at one remove, but it doesn’t really work.
It looks as though they will be damaged when people consider further their foreign policy actions over the last few years. Whilst in coalition with the Tories, what have they done to pursue or deliver anything that might be considered as an ethical foreign policy? What particularly could be damaging to them is a claim made yesterday in the Scottish Daily Record, that is now being demanded to be answered in parliament by Labour MP Thomas Docherty and SNP’s MP Angus Robertson, that Vince Cable in 2012 was still licensing the sale of the chemicals to Syria from which lethal chemical weapon Sarin could be made.
But last week both Cameron and Clegg were attracted by the opportunity to show that not all military interventions are either bad or, for that matter, not all military actions will fail. And no-one should remember how the politicians and the media can manipulate successful military action, no matter how pointless, into electoral gain – look at Thatcher and the Falklands.
Labour leaders, it must be acknowledged, have not had a clean record on trying to use military action to enhance their credibility. Cameron and the Liberals were both playing to a tune played earlier by Blair – that ordering audacious military action would enhance their public stature. Blair, of course, completely messed up which is why Cameron, Clegg and Obama are being more cautious. Although there was probably also an attraction for Clegg and Cameron in wanting to reverse the public hostility to foreign military actions, after the huge unpopularity of both the Iraq and Afghan wars.
Miliband’s greater, and welcome, reluctance to agree to military action without further details being made available was motivated in part by a similar concern. The shadow of the Iraq war hung over Labour’s front bench, just as it did the Tories. But there was also a reasoned, internationalist aspect to the widespread opposition in the Party to military action in Syria as well. If Blair had still been at the head of the Party with his contempt for the wider views in the Party, last Thursday’s Labour vote would probably have been very different.
It is to be hoped that Miliband reflects on the importance of allowing genuine free expression and debate in the Party and that he doesn’t try and shut down the voice of unions. After all, if Blair had listened to the voice of the unions where anti-Iraq war feelings were particularly strong, then the peoples of this country, the US and particularly Iraq would not have needed to suffer that tragedy.
The loudest and the most reliable voice against imperialist adventures and for international solidarity for democracy has always been found within the labour and trade union movement