In the wake of what George Galloway has called the “democratic revolt” against the government, it seems increasingly unlikely that Britain will participate in military strikes against Syria. Worth exploring, however, is why the government was so desperate to intervene, what were their stated motives, and what impact parliament’s decision might have on Britain’s status in the world.
It must be understood that Syria is an international war. Simplified, the West supports the rebels, Russia supports the regime, and both have essentially been fighting each other by means of arms exports and funding since the war began. However, in light of a changing trend on the battlefield (the once-successful rebels are now losing) any reason for the West to ramp up its involvement must be viewed cynically. The establishment of a ‘red line’ on the use of chemical weapons (a line which had been crossed many times already, as most sources agree) is such a reason, and forms the basis for Cameron’s incitement to war.
Evidence for Assad’s culpability in the attack is vague and hard to come by, and there too are counterclaims, backed by the regime, that blame the rebels for carrying out the attack in a desperate bid to draw the US in. However, the desire to punish a regime likely guilty of such atrocities does not justify the desperation to intervene witnessed in Britain, France, and the USA. As many have pointed out, similar atrocities have occurred elsewhere and met no sanction; there are other factors at play in Syria.
Fundamentally the United States would like to see Russia embarrassed. They would like to prove, once again, that Russia is not its ancestral Superpower, the USSR, and that its capabilities are limited. This falls broadly under the matter of ‘credibility’, and is something for the US to be concerned about. The application of this concept to Britain, however, is either farcical, wilfully naïve, or both. It should not be surprising that the two permanent members of the UN Security Council least deserving of their permanency (Britain and France) have been those calling loudest for war. Regardless of whether Britain intervenes, its ‘credibility’ would remain much the same as it was before: that of a middle power no longer worthy of great power status. UK involvement alongside the US would inevitably reflect this, and in this sense alone, Syrian intervention might evoke memories of the Cold War.
War in Syria would have been a disaster for everyone involved, and is no longer a game the UK should be playing. Instead it appears that Britain will pioneer the only effort that sees Syrians themselves centre-stage—in place of credibility or power balances—by donating an additional £52 million to help tackle the humanitarian crisis this war has spawned. For this, Britain should be commended, but lest it be forgotten that those most naïve in today’s government would sooner send missiles than medicine.