We are all angry and upset at the terrible pictures of the atrocity in Syria. Poison gas is a cowardly and inhumane weapon. Its use against civilians is especially despicable. Instinctively we all want to punish the perpetrators and ensure there will be no repeat of this mass slaughter.
That's the emotional reaction. The rational one is to measure the consequences of our using force in the Syrian Civil War. Force begets more force. A civil war with evil fanatics on both sides could quickly escalate into a regional war and a world war. There are many interests involved including the Al Nusra branch of Al Qaeda on the insurgents side, the divided rule of President Assad and his brother plus the nations of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Israel, China and the neighbouring Arab states.
No one can predict with certainty the consequences of the use of force by the UK or the US. Hague repeats that the UK should punch above our weight. That means spending above our interests and dying beyond our responsibilities. Not since the Vietnam War has the UK behaved as an independent state. Harold Wilson avoided involvement in that futile war. Parliament should reach our own national decision and not again act as an appendage of the United States.
An attack by US/UK on Damascus should be named the war of Obama's blushes. Foolishly he drew a red line. It's been crossed and he retaliates with bombs to avoid accusations of weakness. That's his problem not ours.
Tony Blair has blundered into the debate with one of the signature war-cries of the Peace Envoy. What is required from him now is a prolonged period of silence and invisibility. The delayed Chilcot Report will prove his folly.
In 2003 Blair rallied the Commons with rhetoric and fear. 139 Labour MPs defied a three line whip. All are grateful that they did. About 50 Labour MPs were bullied, bribed or bamboozled into abstaining or voting for war. Most bitterly regret their vote. In 2006 when only two UK soldiers had been killed in combat in Afghanistan we invaded Helmand in the hope that not a shot would be fired. Now the death toll is 440.
These are indelible memories for MPs. Trust in official reassurances has gone. This time all MPs will be circumspect before they throw petrol on a new inferno.
There is another invisible pressure for perpetual war. Staggering evidence has emerged of the reach of the tentacles of the US Defense contractors. The disgraced General Petraeus, when he was the top US commander in Afghanistan, allowed lobbyists Frederick and Kimberly Kagan unique access to secret information and private meetings. The married couple used these privileges to advocate substantive changes in the US war plan. The Kagans repeatedly campaigned against peace initiatives to serve the commercial interests of their paymasters. Although they were always at the elbow of Petraeus, they were not paid by the Government or the Military. Their income came from the US Defense contractors. This is lobbying at its most pernicious. Petraeus allowed the Kagans to help draft his reports to the US government. The resultant decisions lengthened the conflict and increased the total of NATO and Afghan casualties killed.
Capitalising on a surge of emotion to write your page in history is a frequent political stunt. All premiers get turned on when war beckons. They adopt a Napoleonic posture, polish up the Churchillian rhetoric and strut in the Commons as the saviours of the world.
The result of recent PM decisions in Iraq and Helmand is the loss of 623 UK soldiers lives. Hell of a price to pay for prime ministerial vanity.
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