Saturday, 31 August 2013

Syrian Crisis: Labour Was Not Opposed In Principle to Military Intervention.

A sense of reality is needed by those understandably praising Ed Miliband. The opposition leader  was not against military intervention but saw that Cameron and Hague were indeed evidently rushing Britain towards war and played the game he had to play well should the government reject his call to pursue diplomacy further

Jack Straw, the former British Foreign Secretary at the time of Blair's decision to 'stand shoulder to shoulder' with GW Bush and his invasion of Iraq, is now trying to spin the line that Labour's opposition to the government motion, defeated in Parliament, was not about rejecting the "Special Relationship" with the USA.
'That a legislative assembly occasionally rejects a recommendation from the executive will come as no surprise, least of all in Washington. That's almost the norm in US politics – even when the president and the congressional majorities are from the same party.'
But this has not happened on a foreign policy issue such as a decision to go to war for a long time, some historians have said since the mid-nineteenth century or even as far back as 1782. To downplay the significance of this in order to try remain onside with Washington is Straw's gambit.
'Labour's amendment last night was designed to fill that void, to set out a process for taking a clear decision on military action, on evidence. The government could, and should, have accepted it, and Cameron would have enjoyed a brighter morning if he had.'
So accepting the amendment which would have made the case for military intervention proceed more smoothly and still without any definite guarantee that if the UN inspectors did not find sufficient evidence, then there could be 'compelling evidence' provided from elsewhere, such as Washington.

As it happens, the rejection of both the government motion and the amendment is good because it prevents any decision being taken on the issue of chemical weapons alone irrespective of what the UN inspectors find. Both political party leaderships were confronting each other over the framing of the case for military intervention.

If missile strikes from the US and France take place with Arab League backing  ( which is unlikely ) and diplomatic support from Britain in trying to get the legal pretext organised after the UN inspectors present their findings, there is no certainty that a new way of advocating British involvement could not be found.

However, Straw touched on one apparent difference between the opposition and the government
'To achieve such a ( political ) settlement we need greater engagement with both Russia and – especially given the opportunity presented by the election of the new president, Hassan Rouhani – with Iran. Diplomatic endeavours are afoot to set out a political roadmap for peace in Syria.'
Yet greater diplomatic engagement was needed with Russia and Iran long ago in order to bring about a political settlement. But that was made on the precondition at any Geneva Conference that Assad and his supporters would step down in favour of a new regime with the 'rebel' leaders.

This precondition was a continuity in Washington's foreign policy from the time of Hillary Clinton and the demand 'Assad must go' through to June 2013 when the leaders of the Syrian National Council scuppered talks because they would not negotiate with Assad unless he agreed to capitulate.

The coercive measures being put forth now in the form of missile strikes from the US and France are in continuity with the policy of pressurising Assad that he must step down on their and the Syrian National Council's terms only. That basically means Labour is either for Washington's policy or it is not.

In reality, Miliband was against the specific case being made by Cameron and not against Washington's policy on Syria so far. In the coming days we shall see whether he is prepared to criticise US policy should the missile strikes cause dangerous consequences.

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