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The West is too riddled with self interest to lead on Syria or other world affairs

TOPSHOTS-SYRIA-CONFLICTObama’s key line that the attack on Syria would be a short, surgical strike was designed to win over those who were appalled at Assad’s (virtually certain) use of chemical weapons and wanted him to be punished, but without risk of another long war. His latest deviation from this line – that the missile strike is part of a wider scenario leading to regime change in Damascus – was designed to win over key Republican leaders in order to help win the Congressional vote next week, but it will inevitably alarm and turn off those in the first category.

Above all it will exasperate both Putin who for the first time yesterday hinted that he might under some circumstances (unspecified, but well worth exploring) reconsider Russia’s stance in the UN Security Council. It will also have displeased and destabilised Iran’s new liberal President, Rouhani, who has indicated willingness to negotiate with the West and to pursue ‘reason and moderation’. By trying to play contrary tunes to placate strongly opposed sections within his own domestic politics, Obama is in danger of alienating both as well as estranging his international interlocutors. US policy is in a dreadful muddle.

Obama got himself into this position by believing (naively) that the threat of American retaliation was enough to ensure that Assad kept to conventional weapons. That was the background to the red line speech several months ago. Assad, either through miscalculation or disheartened at the slowness of the military push-back against the rebels, called his bluff.

Obama has never really wanted to intervene in Syria, but he is now hoist on his own petard – his own credibility is on the line. Yet still unable to steel himself to take the fateful decision to attack and clearly rattled by the Commons vote disengaging America’s closest ally, he hesitated and compromised by putting the matter to the vote in Congress. Even that device has now been turned by the suggestion emanating from the White House that the President could still trigger an attack even if Congress votes against. US policy now points all ways and no way.

Will the Commons vote be reversed if Congress or the President decide to attack? There can be no doubt that there will be intense pressure to take this course, including from the Blairite Right of the Labour party. Cameron himself would be keen to follow this course, but he won’t – not because it would be immoral, impractical or unconstitutional – but because he fears he would lose the vote again, quite likely by a larger majority given the restlessness on the Tory Right, and that would then certainly be the end of him.

The patent lack of principle in the West and the avoidance of the obvious solution to convene a Geneva 2 regional conference of all the countries involved and their sponsors is not only allowing the Syrian nightmare to drag on, but also exposing the West as too riddled with self-interests to give a clear lead any more in world affairs.


  1. ShirleyKnott says:

    We are several weeks into this now, yet not an iota of proof has been offered by Obama Admin showing that the Syrian govt was responsible. It could be one of the multiple factions:
    Unreported in the Western press is the fact that the Turks have caught members of factions *in possession* of chemical weapons on their turf.
    Next consideration: Just how does degrading the Syrian armed forces enable them to protect their weaponry from falling into the hands of the various factions? How does it not make an awful situation 10x worse?
    Russia has made undefined threats about action without UN backing. What difficulties could they – and China – make for those involved?
    The West, the Saudis and others have been arming factions. Who benefits from the breakdown of Syria? I am reminded of the “Clean Break” document, written for Netanyahu in 1995 (or 1996) by JINSA, which was rewritten as “Project for a New American Century” (PNAC) for Clinton in 97/8, taken up by Bush (with the results we see in Iraq today) and now morphed into “Foreign Policy Initiative” (FPI) from 2009. Virtually the same bunch of neocons, virtually the same policies. All about destabilising the ME, rewriting its countries borders, etc.

  2. ShirleyKnott says:

    Further, it seems sheer hypocrisy for the West to be squawking indignantly about *any* use of these weapons, by whoever, in light of its own use of far worse.
    Agent Orange – how many generations will suffer from poisoned soil and water leading to birth defects and cancers?
    Cluster bombs – injuries and deaths from bomblets ongoing for decades
    Depleted Uranium – again, how many generations will suffer from poisoned soil and water leading to birth defects and cancers?

  3. Rob the cripple says:

    Here we go again Labour cannot help it, give me actual proof that it was Assad and I’ll dig out my old gear and go to war again.

    The fact is the use of this gas warfare could have been the other side, I have never liked Assad although Blair felt he was ok at one time the little man can shift his allegiance with the money on offer.

    Miliband looked big after his win now he is looking not very statesman like his MP/minister on TV now ask if Assad uses gas again in the future what would you do and she simple had no answer if used again we would back a strike and removal of the Assad regime, get a pair love because you looked poor on TV.

    But now prove to me not maybe or he might have, but he did, because knowing what the other lot are like they may well have used it to get the USA involved.

    Same in Iraq your now paying the price of Blair love affair with bush our people died on a simple lie no nukes no WMD and in fact no Gas.

    Prove the gas being used it looks like in blue plastic cans was Assad.

    Simple not maybe but definite.

  4. Serviceman says:

    I am still not sure whether Ed Milliband was driving or was driven by events on Syria. We got the right result in the end as surely Obama would have pressed the button for military action the weekend after the commons vote as it would have given Cameron enough political cover.

    Did Ed realise that there would never be a second vote as the military action would already have been taken (by the US at least) and so made sure there was no positive vote that could have provided cover?

    I am sure we will find out in time as Syria is not going to go away. Hopefully the call for military action will do.

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