Thursday, 29 August 2013

Is the Cameron-Clegg position on Syria crumbling?

It is perplexing. Cameron goes to the UN security council to get a resolution he  knew he had no chance of getting. He can do nothing about the veto of Russia and China. So what  then was it  all about? Once again the US administration is persuaded to go down the UN route against their better judgement. Bush would not have sought a second resolution before invading Iraq without being persuaded to do so by Blair. To help Blair, the Bush administration went for a second resolution.

What is crucial, however, is that Miliband has done what the Tory leadership should have done over the invasion of Iraq; refuse to give backing without conditions. MPs need time to reflect. 'We must act' is not itself an argument. It was repeated by William Hague today. Turning it into a mantra doesn't make it more forceful. This is followed by the slippery slope argument: if we don't act now then it would send a message that chemical weapons can be used with impunity.

In truth, we are always on such a slippery slope. Calling a particular point a 'thin end of the wedge' doesn't really advance us very far. We need more. First we need to see the evidence the US says it has that the Assad regime was responsible. What we have so far is William Hague and others saying 'of course they done it!' as if this was beyond challenge. It is a very dangerous argument.

As Tory MP Andrew Bridgen argued on Newsnight tonight, it is difficult to see for what reason the Assad regime would  use chemical weapons in that region. He is right to question the origin of the attack until evidence is produced to demonstrate definitively who perpetrated the attack. It is at this point that someone says 'come on it is obvious who did it!' But the answer to that is equally simplistic: no it is not obvious. So there we have it. It is clear what needs to be done. The evidence must be presented.

But when the evidence is presented we then need to see what military strike is proposed and consider what its likely consequences would be. It would only be acceptable, ethically and legally, if it would be more likely than not to protect the civilian population from further attacks. And there is the rub. What kind of action would do that?


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