On August 29th, the British Parliament voted against joining President Obama and the United States in an attack on Syria. In the wake of Iraq, which was a disaster for British arms, and Libya, which was a dubious victory at best, this isn’t too surprising. David Cameron simply lacked the advantages (and historical oddities) that Tony Blair brought to Parliament in 2003. He also had the considerable problem of convincing the Houses of Parliament that events inside Syria are a matter of concern to the United Kingdom.
As I noted in my prior essay, dealing with Syria will not be easy. Almost anything the US does to the regime (with or without its allies) will play into the hands of the rebel forces, giving them an advantage against the regime. This is not a bad thing, on the face of it, but we have to consider the long-term picture. What sort of regime will arise from the wreckage of Syria? Will it be a greater threat to the UK than the current rather shambolic remnant of a bygone age?
We cannot hope to shape the future of Syria without making a massive investment in troops and infrastructure. That investment must be far higher than the investment the US made in Iraq – and, let’s face it, the US came far too close to defeat. (And the UK was defeated, despite the best efforts of the spin doctors; we didn’t even win the propaganda war.) If we don’t, however, we may discover that we don’t like the regime that takes over the country. And, at worst, we will have to launch yet another intervention.
But there is, I think, a deeper reason to applaud the decision. President Obama, who is almost a clone of Tony Blair in many ways, has backed himself into a corner. If he fails to take effective action against the regime, having threatened all sorts of punishments for using chemical weapons (if, of course, it was the regime who used the weapons), he will utterly destroy his own credibility – and, by extension, that of the United States. Bear in mind that the folly of Bush41 weakened the hand Clinton42 could play, while Clinton’s own follies weakened Bush43’s hand. Whoever replaces Obama in 2017 will have to come to terms with the legacy of Obama’s careless chatter.
In order to live up to his grandiose statements, Obama must deliver a shattering blow to the regime. If he can launch such an attack, the consequences may be very serious indeed – and if he can’t, the US will lose credibility. A handful of cruise missile strikes, even ones that take out the regime’s airfields, will not be enough to live up to his words.
Why, exactly, should we harness ourselves to such a poorly-crafted policy?
Obama is not the friend of Britain – nor should we expect him to be. (Remember Clinton’s statements on the Falklands?) The United States is guided by geopolitics, just like almost every other state in the world. Obama has played fast and loose with the interests of Britain, Poland and several other countries – including his own. He has been a failure when it comes to upholding American interests, let alone the interests of the rest of the world. Like Blair, Obama has yet to realise that words are not actions. Dictators and terrorists are not impressed by fancy words. They are only impressed by creditable threats.
The case for war in the UK revolves around a simple question; is military interest in Britain’s interests or not? Cameron failed to make that case, as did Obama.
In short, we get nothing by interfering in a half-hearted manner in Syria.
Well, nothing we actually want.