Monday, 2 September 2013

Nothing to do with all our strength

I'm not sure that the vote in the Commons went the wrong way. But it didn't go the right way. And I don't know how it could have.

So much of the discussion has revolved around comparisons to previous conflicts. Labour were quick to say how much they regret Iraq and were keen not to repeat the mistake, but this isn't very similar. Surely it's more like Libya; long-distance, targeted strikes, designed to help rebels who we've finally come out in support of. Are we looking nervously at new developments in Egypt, and deciding that maybe this sudden outpouring of "freedom" wasn't such a good idea after all? Individual MPs may protest their reasons for voting one way or another, but many outlets have been quick to highlight that this wouldn't be a "popular" war. In the face of what is being presented as a moral choice, is it our national war-weariness which is the most powerful motivator?

What is most upsetting though is that this whole discussion is only happening now. For months and months and endless months a government has been at war with a section of its people, and bystanders have died and their homes have been destroyed, and well over a million people have fled their home to go...nowhere. A country which was a safe haven for refugees from the Iraq war now wreaks devastation upon itself, and we only feel compelled to even discuss acting because the method of death-dealing has changed?! "But kill them gently!" we bleat, while we act as a platform for the international arms trade, and defend our insistence on selling arms to the conflict zone by arguing that we need to make it a fair fight. Have we learned nothing about the price of conflict? Even as fresh warnings from Sri Lanka ring in our ears? A repeat vote on military intervention has been ruled out; what about other forms of intervention? The government is clearly happy to contribute financially to the conflict, can we please send something to the humanitarian relief?

There has been hand-wringing about our "role in the world". The USA does not seem fazed by our lack of involvement, turning instead to the erstwhile cheese-eating surrender monkeys for support (if, in fact, they need any at all). Maybe now we can get over the idea that we are a "great power" in the world; is it too late to form closer alliances with other neighbours? To build new bridges in light of our new-found irrelevance?

Or perhaps we can take on a greater responsibility; do more for the world than just making explosions when one side of a muddy conflict turn a darker shade of grey, having sat on our hands for so long. Because our utter inability to do anything effective at this stage, whatever the result of last week's vote, is the greatest tragedy. Not a tragedy for us, but for the entire nation of Syria.