Monday, 2 September 2013

Syria : Why Britain's Political Elites Want Military Intervention

There is much delusion in Britain over the reprieve from military intervention. The proposed missile strikes are a bad idea. However, that does not mean that they are merely 'stupid' or 'senseless'. Evidently, they are designed as part of a policy of showing Assad that he can never win in the civil war.

The aim of a missile strike is in continuity with the policy Washington and London have had since 2011 that 'Assad must go'. By a demonstration of strength, the US wants to make it plain that Assad will negotiate his exit at the postponed Geneva Conference and make way for the opposition.

The Syrian National Council is backed by the Friends of Syria group which meets in Doha and Istanbul and regularly receives Western diplomats. Turkey and Qatar are backing the opposition and want Assad to go with the support of the West due to its strategic partnerships with them and energy interests.

Britain's position is not merely about neoimperial hubris, 'saving Syria', the vanity of politicians wanting to strut on the world state though these are important. It is due to the fact that the enemies of Assad, especially Qatar, are vital partners in shoring up the continued prosperity of the Britain's rentier economy.

With the decline of North Sea Oil, Qatar has made up an increasing proportion of Britain's supply of LNG. Britain and France want 'energy diversification' and to depend less upon Russian gas for geopolitical reasons that are evident enough over Syria and also in wars such as Afghanistan.

Qatar proposed a gas pipeline to Turkey in 2009. Assad stands in the way of such a project as does Iran, the Gulf rival of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which wants to export gas to the Eastern Mediterranean via Iraq and Syria. This would be a major setback after Britain went to war to control Iraq's oil and gas.

Just as there was a complete cross political party consensus on the value of the Afghanistan War, so too is there on Syria. The Labour amendment to the defeated government motion, also rejected, was only about caution over rushing in to intervention when the case had not yet been clearly formulated.

The reason the British government's attempt to join the US in a missile strike on Syria was defeated in Parliament was not so much about public opinion. Nor did Cameron take the vote to Parliament because he was genuflecting to public opinion. He did it because he believed it would vote for him.

True, Miliband wanted to exploit the anti-interventionist mood after his 'lack of leadership' had been subject to criticism over the summer. Yet Labour was for military intervention and just not the way that Cameron had proceeded which seemed similar to Blair's demand to trust his 'call of judgement' on Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons

Already, there are strong voices calling for a second vote on military intervention on Syria now that Obama has played for time and delayed military action until Congress reconvenes .Members of the government are blaming Miliband for making military action no longer an option in case new 'compelling evidence' turns up.

The reasoning is that if Washington gets more regional support, as it already has with the Arab League now demanding action *and a legal pretext could be used for missile strikes, then the British government would be able to put another vote before Parliament in light of changed circumstances.

Boris Johnson in particular has been putting pressure on Cameron to do so. In the Daily Telegraph Johnson claimed  "If there is new and better evidence that inculpates Assad, I see no reason why the government should not lay a new motion before parliament, inviting British participation".

The Mayor of London has every reason to be forthright as he is close to the rich elites in Qatar and has been relentlessly banging the drum for it as a major investor in London. In fact, Britain has strong developed strong bilateral trade ties with Qatar in energy,education and 'culture'.

Unfortunately, Britain's dysfunctional rentier economy has become increasingly interconnected with Qatar's in the wake of the 2008 crash and the need for Qatari petrodollars to boost investment in British real estate (especially in London ) and lure shoppers to spend more.

Whether the British public likes it or not, Syria and its geopolitical position is very much about Britain's business, keeping gas bills down and giving shots of investment to prop up an ailing and failing neoliberal economy too overdependent upon oil and gas from unstable regions.

* Correction- The Arab League Secretary General has decided the UN route must be pursued and "military action is out of the question". Saudi Arabia wanted US military action.
'Saudi Arabia and the Syrian opposition pleaded with League members to back a US military strike on the regime.
 Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told the meeting that "opposition to international action only encourages the regime to pursue its crimes".

"It is time to ask the international community to assume its responsibilities and to take deterrent measures" against the Syrian regime," al-Faisal said.'

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