The British Parliament's historic vote, first since 1782 (Guardian), to reject Syrian invasion without UN resolution is proving to be a game changer in several ways. It set the mood music that gave moral boost to a sceptical American public and Congressmen to oppose war. It opened the opportunity for Putin to push in with a diplomatic initiative that could set a trend and end the long period of interventionist wars by the west. It has isolated and made the French appear out of sync with world opinion. And while appearing a loser at first, Cameron seems to have come out of it with greater integrity by ditching the war option altogether. Miliband who triggered it all, seems to have been faded by events.
The bigger question is whether international politics is going to be different now? More to the point, will British Foreign policy take a new direction and will there be a cultural shift away from wars.
The significant of the Commons vote on current diplomatic initiatives and future world events cannot be underestimated, even if there was only a majority of five against war. British identity is characterised by wars (Lawrence)? The English Crown has been at war with someone or other for 500 years, year in year out, except perhaps 1946. (Wold War fatigue) No other country or race comes anywhere near this relentless appetite for wars.
The British war machine is always preparing for another war, when one comes to an end. The drums for a Syrian invasion have been beating for more than a year as Afghanistan winds down. Before Afghanistan was Iraq, before that Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Operation Desert Fox, Bosnia, Gulf War, Falklands etc etc. British Foreign Secretaries still like to pretend they rule the world. Of course there is always officially a pious reason (just war). To save the world or save the British from imagined missiles from Bagdad etc, often masking an addiction to war.
Most people realise that intervention in Syria would be madness. It will escalate the combustion unfolding in Middle East, the conflicts between Sunni and Shia, Israel and Arabs, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Secularists and Islamists. Where do we fit? What is it that we will sort out that no one has been able to do for over a thousand years? The Middle East will come to London. We all know that.
An uncomfortable fact is that there has been an internal logic in British Foreign policy propelling decisions towards wars, often complimented by the war machine, media and tough acting politicians. In calling for intervention initially , Cameron was merely following established policy. The vote brought out a different instinct in him declaring 'I get it'.
After decades of wars, many futile, it appears the British public is weary of interventionist wars as it seems is the American public. Why always us, many are asking. Why do we always end up sorting problems of the world? This time even the liberal press seemed against 'intervention for nirvana'. War is no longer a simple matter of going in, sorting the natives, install a friendly Government and coming back as saviours. The consequences of war on the people in the region and on the ethics and freedoms of the countries that wage interventionist wars have been too obvious in the last decade.
This realisation may be precipitating a tectonic shift in British attitudes. The British public does not want to play 'God' despite what some moralising liberals and arm chair generals believe is the purpose of the British on earth. There are too many problems here. Housing, unemployment, poverty, failing health care, sick economy and so on. Besides the world isn't that keen on our 'moral' interventions and countries like China have shown that you don't always need to attack a country to make it a complimentary trading partner.
Cameron has caught the public mood. That is why Cameron is not weakened by the electoral defeat anymore than Miliband is strengthened by it. Cameron comes out as a better leader in a democracy showing respect for Parliament and public opinion as opposed to the likes of Blair who misled Parliament and showed contempt for public opinion (Iraq war). By taking a step back from warmania, Cameron has enabled the giants, USA and Russia, to explore diplomatic initiatives. And it seems he has also acknowledged Britain's realistic reach in today's world as opposed to the French, whom one Russian diplomat described as irrelevance playing it big.
Where to British Foreign Policy now? More importantly will it transform the way the west deals with international tensions? The Parliamentary decision brings a chance of shifting the paradigm in British Foreign policy. We might see diplomacy playing a greater role in future than interventionist wars. And we might even see the USA concentrating on diplomatic solutions rather than shooting before talking (Afghanistan). But then there is always a Bush lurking somewhere in American politics.