Ever since Britain stood against tyranny in 1939, we have always stood for something, protected our values and done our bit to defend those who can’t defend themselves and find themselves victims of oppression, tyranny and war crimes (generally speaking). Since WW2, I am proud of our contribution to the Korean War, the Falklands, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and most recently, Libya. Why am I proud? Because we stood up for what we believed in, tried our best to uphold our values, and did our best to save innocent lives and do ‘the right thing’. I think (hope) this a pride shared by most British people.
I have always been proud of the compassion British people show towards people in distant lands who are less fortunate than themselves. Be that by their often extraordinary donations and fundraising efforts in response to a major natural disaster, participation in television events such as ‘Red Nose Day’ and ‘Sport Relief’ or by their relative support of military intervention in places such as Kosovo and Libya to prevent further crimes against humanity being committed.
British people do care about others, understand that not everybody is as fortunate as themselves, that we can’t help everybody, but will try our best to help those where we can. That is what I have always believed, and continue to believe.
Which brings us onto Syria.
I do not take issue with requests for greater proof and confirmation that the Syrian Government gassed its own people before Britain undertakes military action, although it is my belief they almost certainly did. To not do so, would mean we have not learned from our mistakes ten years ago.
But what depresses me, although it is a great triumph for democracy, is that our MP’s voted against all military action against the Syrian government, even if they are proven to have used chemical weapons last week.
Now we all know with hindsight that Iraq was terrible and a grave mistake. It has undoubtedly, for good reason left an indelible scar in the British publics psyche. Afghanistan has been rough, tough and expensive. We are tired of seeing our boys come home in coffins. We are sick and tired of trying to help foreigners solve their problems and never getting thanked for it. We are tired of our government ‘wasting’ money on expensive and unwinnable wars in distant lands. “I get that”, to quote David Cameron, and I share those feelings.
In terms of military intervention in Syria, we probably are ‘damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.’
International law has been violated in one of the gravest forms. Well over a hundred thousand people lay slaughtered and things are only getting worse, the Middle East is in the grip of an unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis and we are allowing the killing to continue. Meanwhile, the United Nations has proven itself incompetent and unfit for purpose due to the Russians and Chinese. Diplomacy has clearly failed.
We went to war with Iraq because they supposedly had chemical weapons, now they are blatantly being used in Syria and we are doing nothing. What does that say? (Apart from Tony Blair pretty much screwed everything)
Bashar Al-Assad and his government are mass murdering war criminals (regardless of whether or not they used chemical weapons last week), and we, the British people, appear prepared to allow them to continue doing this, unhindered. After all, “Muslims are killing Muslims and there’s nothing we can do about it”, “Stay out of Syria, it’s none of our business.”, “Both sides are as bad as each other and we’ll only make things worse with our meddling.” “Let them sort it out, it’s not our problem”, “Our money is better spent and more needed at home”, that’s the general attitude, judging from the comments sections of The Guardian, Independent, Mail and Telegraph.
David Cameron was not advocating a full-scale military invasion, a prolonged air campaign, or the removal of the Assad regime. He was saying that the use of weapons of mass destruction on a civilian population is a reprehensible war crime and those responsible must be punished by the international community to ensure it does not happen again. Our allies and other Arab nations agreed. International law was on our side. In stark contrast to Iraq, a strike on Syria would have been legitimate and legal, with or without UN approval.
Instead of upholding our ‘values’ and international law, we have shunned our responsibility and moral obligations. We have let down our allies and friends, not to mention the Syrian people, and taken a step back from the world stage.
Non-interventionists say we have punched above our weight for a long time, and it’s time we recognised our place in the world. “We are not the superpower we once were”, they say, and they are correct. But we have punched above our weight, in part because we have chosen to involve ourselves on the global stage for centuries, and been prepared to make tough decisions and sacrifices when needed. I see no reason for that to change.
People often point out, “Why should we act as the world’s policemen, who are we to tell countries what to do?”, well the alternative (If you remove the Americans from the equation), is a world governed by Chinese and Russian ‘values’, and I can tell you now, having lived in China and read about Russia, that is not a world I would ever want to be a part of.
I understand people’s reservations about supporting intervention in Syria. I understand the situation is far more complex than this article suggests. I understand that there are now many jihadist’s and extremist’s fighting against the regime, who have also committed war crimes. I understand that escalation could make things worse, but I question how much worse it can get, because things will continue to get worse regardless of any outside intervention. I understand we can’t do a great deal, but we could have allowed our military to do something. I also understand that there are inevitable risks involved with any intervention.
But there are things I don’t understand. I don’t understand how we, as a nation, can allow the use of chemical weapons to go unanswered, how we are happy to give the message that it’s maybe not okay for dictators to gas their own people, but we’re not going to stop them or do anything about it if they do. It’s a dangerous and concerning precedent. I don’t understand how people can watch the atrocities being committed in Syria, and not care that we are doing nothing. I don’t understand the point in having the fourth largest defence budget in the world, if we’re not going to use it.
Paddy Ashdown made some interesting comments and tweets.
He then went on to say to the BBC;
“Maybe I am just an old war horse from the past but I think it has a profound implication for our country. I think it diminishes our country hugely.
We now have a bunch of people – the same ones who voted against this last night – who want to get out of Europe and have smashed our relationship with the United States.
There were lots of MPs, chiefly Labour ones but Tories too, who were cheering last night.
We should all understand who is cheering this morning: President Assad is cheering; President Putin is cheering; I suspect [Ukip leader] Mr Nigel Farage is cheering as he sees this country teetering on the edge of isolationism.
Do I think that is good for our country? No I don’t. Do I honour the vote in the House of Commons? Of course I do, I’m a democrat.
But I’m entitled to say, I think, having spent 50 years trying to serve this country in one form or another at home and abroad, to see my country draw back from a coalition in favour of international law and decide that the answer is to stand aside does not fill me with great joy.
Now I’m forced to look at those images of burning schoolchildren … and say my country’s reaction to this is nothing to do with me.”
We were lied to and deceived ten years ago, and I understand why those that say “never again”, say that.
However, we did nothing in Rwanda in 1994, and this is a stain on our collective national conscience. Turning our backs on Syria in 2013 may well be one too.
I read an interesting article in the Guardian this morning, entitled Britain’s new mood;
“Should we feel ashamed about these limits of national will, as Paddy Ashdown said yesterday? No. We should feel ashamed that our instinct for legitimacy and our patriotism have been too often and too cheaply taken for granted. It is not the public’s credibility on the line. It is the government’s. The mood is not never again. The mood is not now, not again, not like this.”
I hope the Guardian is right.
George Osborne said Thursdays vote meant there needed to be “national soul-searching” over Britain’s role in the world and added that the public needed to question “whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system”.
Well George, for what it’s worth, I want us to.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing news of US and French missiles landing on Syrian government targets very shortly.
A final note from the author – I am not a serving member of our armed forces, or even a family member of any troops who may have actually had to serve in this crisis. As a result, I appreciate that people may say it’s very easy for me to write this article without a great deal at stake personally. Fair one.