Former UK governnment minister for the Middle East thinks it was bad for Britain that MPs stopped David Cameron going to war with Syria
Alistair Burt, minister for the Middle East till last year, complains that the vote in parliament last August against direct intervention in Syria ‘still casts a shadow’.
He is right.
The vote had much greater ramifications than we thought even at the time. Then, we were jubilant that anti war opinion had forced MPs to draw back from a military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern country and delighted when its knock on effect also meant that the US too abandoned a series of Cruise missile strikes which were originally slated to take place in the final weekend of August, having been hastily rubber stamped by Parliament and Congress.
It is now clear, however, that the vote raised much more fundamental and long term questions about Britain’s capacity and inclination to wage war. Former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has questioned Britain’s usefulness as the US ‘junior partner’ if it isn’t able to jump when the US wants a war. And Burt himself, as a Tory politician, is worried that ‘the UK finds itself in quite a mess’. Democracy may be a pretext for going to war, but it’s a terrible inconvenience when it stops politicians from unilaterally declaring one.
Burt blusters, ‘If we are now in the position of having to convince half of parliament plus one before difficult foreign policy executive action can be taken, to what can government commit itself in discussions with allies, or prepare in advance for regional strategic defence?’
He cites examples ranging from Iran threatening a ‘smaller Gulf state friendly to the UK’ or indeed ‘any UK military involvement abroad, beyond the Falklands and Gibraltar?’ Burt argues that such decisions cannot be left to parliament, for fear presumably that MPs will recklessly decide to follow public opinion and oppose such wars.
The problem for Burt and those who agree with him is that every single example of military intervention carried out throughout the nearly 13 years of the "war on terror" has been a failure. Therefore his argument that ‘occasionally politicians need space and time to take unpopular action that they believe in the long run is in their nation’s interest’ is one that is rejected by millions of people in Britain.
In fact, they take the opposite view. They have after all seen Tony Blair lie and deceive to get his way over Iraq. They have seen the devastation following the Libya intervention in 2011. They watch as the lives of Afghans remain mired in misery and poverty after nearly 13 years of ‘humanitarian intervention’. They have witnessed too much cross party backing for these wars. They have waited in vain for any honest accounting, and are still waiting for the long delayed Chilcot report into the Iraq war.
So why give politicians the ‘space and time’ to visit this misery on even more people in future wars?
Yes, that vote casts a long shadow. As it should.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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