In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Britain in its bubble

Posted by seumasach on December 5, 2015

Cailean Bochanan

5th December, 2015

When Bassar-al Assad is re-elected as president of Syria in about 18 months time it is unlikely that David Cameron will still be in office. He is no doubt delighted to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Wednesday in the House of Commons but it may turn out to be a pyhrric, pig in a poke.


His outrageous provocation labelling his opponents in the debate as “terrorist sympathizers” served to inflame the mood in the house and divert attention away from his threadbare case concerning the legality of his proposed intervention. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn pointed out that UN resolution 2499 did not constitute a basis for military intervention numerous speakers culminating in Hilary Benn argued to the contrary. But a thousand rants from Benn couldn’t change the simple fact that resolution 2499 was not claimed by the government itself as the legal basis for intervention. That was, rather, the right to national defense as outlined in the UN charter, a position which implied that Islamic State is, in reality, a nation state. Cameron himself was at pains to reject that notion during his speech. Who said you can’t teach the world’s oldest democracy new tricks: the BBC subtitled its live coverage as the debate on UN resolution 2499! But surely someone in the House could see through the ruse. The opposition perchance?
No chance! If the prime minister position was shaky so was the opposition’s. Corbyn’s spectacular ineptitude recalled nothing more than a goalkeeper who’d accepted bribes to throw a match. Whip or no whip, he should have simply demolished the legal foundations of military intervention. But to do that implied he would support legal action as in Iraq or under Russia’s proposed UN resolution for an international coalition against ISIL. But it looks like, as in the case of Stop the War, he doesn’t support any action at all by anyone except that of a “sovereign, democratic Syrian government” i.e. a Syrian government after it’s been regime changed. The Tories scented blood and rubbed salt mercilessly into Corbyn’s open wound. Apart from that there were only a few dollies from the various corner’s of the House. It was all very well to debunk Cameron’s 70,000 “freedom fighters” nonsense but no one asked why we didn’t support those currently and legitimately engaged in the fight against ISIL in Syria. No one questioned whether a new Syrian government brought in under foreign pressure would be “sovereign”. No one questioned the outrageous argument that since ISIL don’t recognize national borders nor should we. The reality is that here the fundamental principle of British political life was at play: Don’t rock the boat! Don’t burst the bubble!
The question remains: What is all this obfuscation and manipulation for? What is Cameron trying to do? – apart from flogging a few Brimstone missiles and destroying the Labour Party. The most interesting part of the debate was Foreign Secretary Hammond’s summing up in which he lauded Russia’s plan for Syria. Cameron had earlier spoken of “A new transitional government whose troops will then be our allies”. One would think that they are betting on Russia getting rid of Assad for them and thereby getting themselves out of a deep hole. But Hammond read out a letter received that morning from Secretary of State John Kerry describing in positive terms the prospect of a political agreement in Syria but with the terms “Assad must go” notably absent. Had Kerry left it to the day of the vote to disabuse London of its illusions about regime change? If so, that was a dirty trick! Did Cameron know about it? Why did Hammond read it out? The day after the vote Kerry was at it again:

“I think we know it, that without the ability to find some ground forces that are prepared to take on Daesh (IS), this will not be won completely from the air,”

So much for Cameron’s 70,000! He went on:

“If we get the political transition in place we empower every nation and every entity to come together, the Syrian army together with the opposition… together with Russia, the United States and others to go and fight (against) Daesh,”

It all comes down to what you mean by a “political transition”, but I suspect very strongly that it doesn’t mean what Cameron wants it to mean. Putin is still going on about his UN resolution of which we will learn more at the upcoming International Syria Support Group meeting. Cameron will be assuming that the USA will continue to veto such a resolution and be happy to continue leading a rather thin international coalition in carrying out illegal strikes against ISIL in Syria. However, legality has a practical impact on military action: the Syrian government has welcomed British intervention but pointed out that without intelligence co-operation with the Syrian government they will have little effect. The same applies to the Americans. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to join the Russians under UN auspices rather than allow Russia and Assad from taking the glory by defeating ISIL by themselves? Obama and Putin exhuded that “together again” feel at the recent Climate conference. A breath of fresh air is wafting over the geopolitical scene and it could be toxic to those who have evolved in the sulphurous vapours of the British political bubble.

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