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Ed Miliband shows leadership and statesmanship on Syria

The breaking news that Miliband has decided that Labour will tomorrow vote against the Government’s motion for an almost immediate attack on Syria will not only be greeted with heartfelt relief across most of the country, it will also be recognised as an act of courage and statesmanship that shows his mettle as a leader. The pressures for conformity with the joint US-UK establishment at a climactic moment like this on the potential edge of war cannot be overstated.

It singles out Ed Miliband as a man of inner strength and integrity who can take the gritty decisions when they are most needed, and this is undoubtedly one of those times. We have already seen him take on Murdoch over BSkyB and stop the biggest concentration of media power in UK history in its tracks, and then almost single-handedly block the press counter-attack against Leveson which would have left newspapers as unaccountable as ever. The hardest thing for a Leader of the Opposition to do, bereft of any executive authority, is to challenge the prevailing structure of power and change it or even overturn it. No other Opposition Leader has succeeded in this as well as Ed Miliband.

And his decision over Syria is unquestionably right, on all counts. The Government’s pell-mell rush to war at the instigation of the US makes a nonsense of sending in UN inspectors and then unceremoniously dumping their mission by starting military action before they’ve had a chance to undertake a proper investigation and then report. We rushed into war a decade ago on the basis of false assurances of Saddam’s WMD, and if there’s one lesson we should have learnt it’s that we should never go to war again without an inviolable case to warrant such action.

Nor in terms of international law is there a case for action against Syria. The two bases for war under the UN Charter either is a Security Council resolution authorising military action, which is not forthcoming given the Russian and Chinese vetoes, or Article 51 which permits “self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the UN”. But the alleged chemical attack on civilians in eastern Damascus last week is clearly not an attack on another State.

Then there is the question that if the killing of 100,000 persons in Syria by the Assad military machine over the last 2 years was not a reason for intervention, why is the killing of a further 1,000 persons, albeit by chemical weapons as opposed to conventional munitions, a cause for intervention now? And what will intervention actually achieve? The Syrian military are organised on a far bigger and stronger scale than Libya, and they are still powerfully backed and reinforced by Russia, and covertly by Iran.

It is all very well to rush to war in a surge of moral outrage, it is quite another to spell out clearly what are the war objectives and how exactly they are to be achieved. Does the West even have the power to deter further gas attacks, or will the West itself once again, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, ground down in an unwinnable conflict which only serves to illustrate its own impotence?

5 Comments

  1. Sally Montgomery says:

    If only Blair had shown the same Commonwealth sense.

  2. James Martin says:

    “It singles out Ed Miliband as a man of inner strength and integrity who can take the gritty decisions when they are most needed” Oh Michael, just listen to yourself. Is this how you also view his dreadful handling of the Falkirk smears and lies against Unite colleagues?

    “Then there is the question that if the killing of 100,000 persons in Syria by the Assad military machine over the last 2 years” yep, there you go again. 100,000 killed by government forces? Really? And where is your evidence for this?

    If, on the other hand, you are referring to one estimate of 100,000 deaths overall on all sides (and none) then please say so – but of course a fair few of those are the result of the Jihadists/rebels and their own massacres, regular and sustained ethinic and religious cleansing and also their own documented use of small scale chemical weapons aren’t they, unless of course you want to prevent facts getting in the way of your propaganda…

  3. PETER WILLSMAN says:

    There were excellent letters in the Guardian yesterday,including by a former very senior UN official (Francesc Vendrell, Former assistant secretary-general),that spells out the relevent bits of the UN Constitution.It explains the 1950 Protocol for overcoming vetos and why the US may not be keen to explore this avenue.

  4. Rob the cripple says:

    So nothing to do with some Labour MP’s and some Tories saying nope sorry we will not back you, because only a few days before Miliband sounded like he was going to back the Tories.

    Yes I’m glad labour found it roots sadly I do not think it was anything to do with the leadership

  5. David Pavett says:

    It is certainly good news that Labour both opposed the government motion. Beyond that I think Michael Meacher’s reaction is somewhat over the top. Was it really an act of “courage and statesmanship” and “inner strength and integrity” to opposed Cameron’s motion? Most of us are desperate to find nice things to say about Ed M but we need to keep our feet on the ground too.

    Cameron fluffed it on many grounds, holding the session in the middle of a UN weapons inspection in Syria, annoying many of his own party by the half-baked nature of his case with all its moralising about how we cannot do nothing in the face of such acts (as if the only alternative to military action was doing nothing). Some Tories spoke very well against this approach.

    In these circumstances Ed Miliband would have had to be slightly mad to have supported the government. It would have had terrible repercussions throughout the Labour Party. He really could not afford to support this motion.

    I have read Ed Miliband’s speech and it struck me as weak on analysis and it also had the wrong balance. It leans far to heavily on the easy bit: we should not vote on what to do without having the evidence in from the UN inspectors. That is an easy case to make. The difficult case is what one should do if that evidence points clearly in the direction of the ASSAD government. Then what?

    Text from Hansard

    Video on Youtube

    Then we need to ask a whole series of questions. Why do we think the responsibility falls on us to act as policeman? What if the UN doesn’t back action? What would be the most likely repercussions throughout the region? Justin Welby , for example has warned that Christians in the region will become even more targets than they are now. By weakening Assad are we confident that something better is going to replace him? What exactly would the action be expected to achieve in the immediate? What alternative, non-military options are open to us? Would the money not be better spent helping the Syrian refugees who, when they eventually return, would remember who helped them in their time of need? To what extent is the poor condition of the refugees providing recruiting grounds for extremists?

    There are so many questions of this sort to be asked and currently few answers. It is true that Ed Miliband asked some of them. But my reading of his speech suggests that he put far to much emphasis on the UN inspection with the result that if their evidence points at Assad the failure to sufficiently emphasise the broader political and military questions might mean that Labour has boxed itself into a corner. His references to the wider problems of Syria and the region were all highly abstract. The analytical and factual content on these matters was zero. That is just about okay when it is a matter of saying “no” to action. When considering the possibility of saying “yes” it is entirely inadequate. Miliband has left the hard work still to be done.

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