Sunday, September 1, 2013

I wish I could leave the subject alone

There was this vague hope that I might be able to write about something that is not Syria today but that will have to wait. There were too many articles, blogs and columns as well as cartoons in the media for me to link to them all or even most but one or two stand out in interest.

First of all, however, I should like to express some surprise and annoyance with the hacks, both as writers and as cartoonists, who appear to think that being voted down by the House of Commons is a shameful thing for David Cameron to have to endure. From being Obama's poodle (untrue) he is being described as going on to being the Commons' poodle. That is a curious view of what representative democracy and a balance of power between the legislative and the executive might be. In fact, we do not have proper balance of power but last week's vote made a tiny step towards creating one, a tiny step in the centuries' long struggle that our media hacks do not seem to have heard of.

I am even less impressed by the suggestion that once Congress has voted (I am coming to that) and voted the "right" way, the Commons should be asked to vote again. Perhaps they would have changed their minds by then. Ahem. Isn't there a political construct that does just that: makes people vote again and again until they come up with the required answer? Is that what representative parliamentary democracy is in these people's opinion?

In yesterday's posting I wrote at length that I do not think our position in the world requires us or depends on us rushing into every war or civil war that happens to have good photographers around (even if the photos sometimes get muddled like those of the bodies in Syria .... ahem ... Iraq did), adding that, despite John Kerry's posturings and President Obama's obvious dislike of this country, the Anglo-American special relationship is likely to survive and flourish in the future.

Which brings me to a curious development. It would appear that President Obama is following in the Boy-King's footsteps, possibly hoping for the same outcome. Although it is not required by the US Constitution and although the President has stated that the US was about to launch an attack on Syria, he is, nevertheless, going to seek Congress's approval on September 9. Apparently, this last-minute decision surprised his advisers, who told him that he can go ahead without consulting Congress. How will this affect the forthcoming fiscal negotiations with Congress? There was a suggestion in The Hill that the strike on Syria would help the President "to reverse the automatic spending cuts to the Pentagon known as sequestration". That, however, was written before the decision to seek Congress's approval for military intervention of whatever kind.

Fraser Nelson says that President Obama's decision to consult Congress is a compliment to David Cameron who went to Parliament. Possibly. It could easily be the action of a desperate man who simply cannot make up his mind what to do.

There are only two other links I want to put up. One to a somewhat unimpressive article by Charles Moore, who thinks the world has not become a better place because of Thursday's vote, a ridiculous and meaningless statement. The world is never a good place and rarely becomes better as a result of political decisions by a country. But then, he also says
Yesterday morning, Britain woke up and found it no longer had a functioning foreign policy. “We might as well turn all our embassies into car showrooms,” one Cabinet minister told me bitterly.
Dear Mr Moore, we have not had a functioning foreign policy for quite a long time and, as long as we stay in the EU, we do not need or require embassies. If there were not so many people in the FCO who need appointments abroad we could have closed them down long ago with nobody noticing the difference. In the end, Mr Moore seems to come to no obvious conclusion as to whether the vote and the control it exerted over the Prime Minister and the Royal Prerogative was a good thing or a bad.

Finally, there is a well argued though very angry piece by Caroline Glick, with whom I do not always agree but whose thoughts in this case are very well worth reading. Interestingly, she along with numerous Israeli commentators, does not think that an American strike would be a good idea. Supporting the rebel groups is not in anyone's interests and one cannot strike at Assad without doing that.

Which brings me very neatly to my last point. This afternoon I took part in a programme on the BBC Russian Service, a large part of which was a discussion of Syria and the various reactions to the crisis, including that vote. I had a good deal of fun explaining that to Russian listeners.

There was also a long discussion with a Syrian journalist who lives and works in Beirut but keeps in close contact with his home country and who could speak good Russian as well as an Israeli journalist who spoke excellent Russian.

Neither of them could explain clearly the various groups and divisions in Syria, especially as far as the rebels were concerned. The Syrian expressed the view that Assad's rule was highly unpopular and people served in his forces only for financial reasons. Nevertheless, he repeated several times, nobody wants Western intervention either. This has been echoed by other Syrian commentators as well.

The Israeli journalist talked of the situation in her country, which is not, she maintained, nearly as difficult as the media makes out. The mobilization has been on a very small scale and, while there are queues in shops and for gas masks, the atmosphere was no longer one of panic. To the question of whether the Israeli government preferred Assad to stay as many of the rebels were Islamists and linked to Al-Qaeda she said two interesting things, one of which I have heard before.

As has been said in various places, people with wounds of various kinds have been crossing the Israeli border to be treated in their far superior hospitals by their far superior doctors. Treatment is given to all and no questions are asked as to where the particular fighters had come from. I would like to think that, while doctors ask no questions, other people in different uniforms also turn up to find out one or two things about what really goes on in Syria.

Secondly, she said that it is well known that the Israeli government has been making contact with one or two of the bigger rebel groups' leaders. That is hardly surprising. Unlike Western governments and commentators the Israelis will have to live with the outcome of the present crisis, whatever it might turn out to be. They can have no exit strategy.


  1. A very nicely written article.

    I have a theory on this. I think the Russian Bear has drawn its own 'red lines' and has displayed this by sending extra warships to the region. Perhaps they have let it be known that they will not stand back and let one of their closest allies be treated this way.

    The West therefore has had to back down. That was never going to be easy as Obama drew his own red lines over chemical weapons. He either had to act or, standby and do nothing therefore appear weak in the eyes of the world. A very bad place for any politician, let a lone a US President to be in - eg Jimmy Carter.

    Going to their respective legislatures, both Cameron and Obama have found themselves a means to escape their diplomatic blunder with minimum embarrassment. They could say, "We wanted military action but was prevented from doing so, but that is what democracy is all about, isn't it ?"

    Save a few blushed faces, its a win win.

    Either way, I think we just stepped back from the abyss of a terrible war that could have easily escalated into a much wider conflict.

    For me, the long term fall out of this could be visited upon the Saudi's and the Qatari's. Both of whom it is said to have supplied money, men and arms. I think Syria and Assad will want to seek some sought of revenge on them and I fear that we will see far more fun and games from that region than we would otherwise wish.

    This matter is far from over !

  2. "Yesterday morning, Britain woke up and found it no longer had a functioning foreign policy". We in the US have been laboring under that very same predicament. Seems like it is 1979 all over again for us. Fraser Nelson says Obama's "decision" is a compliment to Cameron? Obama would not, does not, and never will care a flip for anything British. His upbringing took care of that.

    1. Actually, as I say in my blog, we have not had a functioning foreign policy for some time. I don't know where Charles Moore has been. I bet he could not define what it was before that vote any more than anyone else could. And then there is the EU's common foreign and security policy.

      Obama may or may not care a flip for anything British (incidentally, he was not brought up by his father so I am not sure Britain figured much in his upbringing) but he may well have decided that Cameron's action was a useful one to follow.