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There should be no second Commons vote on Syria. We must stay out of its civil war.

By Paul Goodman
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I sent out yesterday the following series of tweets on Syria, which re-iterated the case against intervention. Here they are:

  • A dictatorship bent on using chemical weapons against its own people is unlikely to be deterred by a single series of strikes.
  • If as is likely Assad continues to use such weapons after any such strike, the alternatives are further intervention or backing down.
  • Further intervention would mean arming rebels, military advice, a no-fly zone - and perhaps "boots on the ground". We would thereby assume a share of responsibility for Syria.
  • It is most unlikely that Assad would be replaced by pro-western democratic liberals if ousted.
  • It is probable that Assad would be replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood-flavoured, Hamas-type regime.
  • Extremist Shiites have not carried out terrorist acts in Britain since 9/11: extremist Sunnis have carried out such acts. British troops in Syria would be vulnerable to attacks by both.
  • Britain thus has no national interest in intervening in Syria's civil war.  In any event, we can now project less military power abroad than ten years ago.
  • From a humanitarian point of view, it's worth remembering that both sides in Syria's civil war are committing atrocities.
  • Thursday's Commons vote didn't commit Britain to action. There was thus a strong case for anti-interventionist Tory MPs to support David Cameron.
  • However, those MPs had legitimate worries about Britain being drawn into Syrian conflict. So did voters. The Commons reflected their view.
  • Cameron acted sincerely, but made a horrible mess of party management. The voters will note.
  • Miliband acted opportunistically, probably insincerely, but made a temporary succeess of party management. Voters will note.
  • The special relationship (such as it is): it will recover. It's worth adding that the vote helped to send Obama to Congress, which will displease him.
  • Government authority on foreign policy: this is weakened - because last week's backbench defiance of the whips wasn't a one-off. Rebellions have become more frequent.
  • On foreign policy, the Government is weaker abroad and the Commons is stronger at home. Take your view on whether the latter gain is worth the former loss.
  • Britain should be pro-America, but not to the point where we simply approve everything a US President proposes.
  • Britain should be pro-intervention when practicable (Libya), but not when it's neither practicable nor desirable (Syria).
  • Voters have gradudally got more Euro-sceptic (over 25 years or so) and more intervention-sceptuc (since Iraq). Those who dislike this must get used to it.
  • Finally: it's easy to be swayed, on Syria or anything, by the heat of moment or coverage of atrocities. It's harder by far to think things through.

This morning, I'd add a further thought:

  • None the less, domestic politics and our national interest are the same as they were last week.  a third or more of Conservative MPs and a majority of voters are opposed to military action in Syria.  Over half of Liberal Democrats MPs voted against the Government last week.  The Labour Party is traumatised by Iraq and has a weak leader: it would thus be an unreliable partner any military quest.  As above, there is no strategic or political case for intervention.
  • David Cameron's apple cart turned over last week.  Putting the apples back in it will take time and trouble.  He mustn't let it be upset all over again.


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