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Monday, 2 September 2013

Interventionism versus Isolationism: the Fallout Over Syria

I'm not quite sure why Lord Ashdown (a once well-known British political leader, pictured above) still thinks that the British people want to know his position on military matters. Surely it's not simply because of his celebrated military background. If that were the case, then we'd be all too keen to listen to Robert Mugabe or Grant Mitchell on what to do about Syria.

In any case, Paddy is "depressed and ashamed" that British troops won't be sent to die in a Syrian civil war. He doesn't like the idea that many British people think that what's happening in Syria is 'none of our business'. That's because it isn't, Paddy. Though I suppose it all depends what our 'business' is in the first place. It would be our business if we had a lot to lose – economically and/ or politically – if we didn't intervene. And even if morality is also our business, it doesn't follow that a military intervention will improve the moral reality of Syria or that it's the only moral option available to us. If Ashdown's concern is the loss of innocent lives, then what if military intervention leads to more civilian casualties, not fewer, as it did in Iraq? If that's a likely outcome, then Ashdown's call for action sounds like moral posturing – or Ashdownian machismo – in that he appears to have overlooked the possible – or likely! – consequences of military intervention.

The other amazing thing is how Ashdown managed to somehow bring Nigel Farage (the UKIP leader) into all this. He said, "I suspect Mr Nigel Farage is cheering" about the lack of a military intervention. What? He also warned against our "teetering on the edge of isolationism". And that's automatically a bad thing because ... ?

That's the thing about the interventionism-versus-isolationism debate. It's not a case of either/ or. We can intervene sometimes and sometimes not intervene. In addition, just because there is a possibility of intervention, that doesn't mean the many reasons for intervention are the same. There may be mutually contradictory reasons for intervening ... still, let's intervene anyway, eh? Ashdown hints at an either/ or situation in which you either never intervene (isolationism) or you always intervene. But of course the last option is both extreme and impossible.

Interestingly enough, the education secretary, Michael Gove, was apparently very angry with the Conservative rebels for not supporting an intervention which could quite possibly lead to Islamist 'rebels' taking over Syria and thus making the place so much better for Christians, Shia Muslims and 'unbelievers'. Michael Gove should know better. Seven years ago, before he climbed the greasy pole of politics and realised that he had to keep his mouth shut on Islam and Islamism, he wrote a book called Celsius 7/7, which is primarily about Islamism and terrorism. That means that a former fierce critic of Islamist terrorism is now effectively – or indirectly – a hawk for the Sunni 'radicals' and 'militants' (i.e., Islamists) of Syria.

The Special Relationship and Prime-Ministerial Strength

After the Commons voted against intervention in Syria, we heard all the usual clichés and generalisations about our 'special relationship with America', about the Prime Minister's authority and the role of Britain on the world stage. These clichés and generalisations are resurrected whenever there's a foreign conflict in which we and the United States may become involved. Questions about the PM's authority and the special relationship will be asked no matter what decisions David Cameron or any other British PM makes, because they are the predictable questions of lazy and superficial journalists.

In order to show his strength (however fake or theatrical), Mr Cameron has made certain statements which don't really mean much. He has said that we still need a "robust response" to Syria? Yes? What does that mean? Well it could refer to getting the UN to put pressure on the Syrian government, though given that Syria is part of the UN along with Russia and China, it is doubtful such pressure would amount to much.

Still, you can hardly criticise Cameron when, as he put it himself, he decided to "act differently" from previous leaders by allowing Parliament to vote on the matter. But that is to forget the inconvenient fact that he originally wanted to intervene without such a vote, and reportedly changed his mind only after conversations with Ed Miliband. That means that at first he didn't want to "act differently".

Both Cameron and Miliband changed their positions on intervention in Syria. That's not such a bad thing if the changes were motivated by political arguments and the facts on the ground. On the other hand, they may simply have been the result of both leaders manoeuvring for political advantage.

Ed Miliband and the New Politics

We are living in an era when the leaders of the Labour Party and the ruling Conservative Party are supremely shallow men. No, I don't mean I'm against their politics. I was against Arthur Scargill's politics but I never thought of him as shallow. I was against some of Margaret Thatcher's politics but I never thought her shallow either. The same is true of a big bunch of former and present politicians: Tony Benn, Norman Tebbit, George Walden, Michael Foot, Keith Joseph, John Redwood, Kenneth Clark, Michael Gove (until recently), Alan Clark, Denis Skinner, Ann Cryer and even Nigel Farage. Again, this is not to say I agree or disagree with, or like or dislike, any of these people. But they appear to have had, or to have, convictions and principles. None of them were simple PR puppets.

Cameron and Miliband are in many ways identical. Their ages; the way they dress; their politics; and even their excessive use of very sincere hand movements (which come across as very insincere and manufactured). They are performers who perform far too much. Ultimately, political content is secondary and power and popularity are primary.

Thus it is likely that Ed Miliband played the Syria affair to maximize his own, and Labour's, advantage. At first you could have seen his stand against Cameron's advocacy of military intervention as principled. That is until you realise that Miliband, not Cameron, wavered over the issue. Miliband is said to have believed in military action at first, until he realised that he could pit himself against Cameron and thus score a political advantage.

Despite that, Miliband was right to say that Cameron was "cavalier and reckless" to even contemplate intervention without a Commons vote. I would add that intervention may well be reckless and cavalier even with a Commons vote.

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