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Monday, September 02, 2013 

Syria: the coalition is officially butthurt.

The coalition is exhibiting all the symptoms of what the internet has come to define as "butthurt".  Either unwilling or unable to bring itself to admit that the failure of the Syria vote was all down to them, whether due to the piss poor case they made, the apparent failure to detect massive opposition within their own parties or just plain old fashioned messing up, they've instead decided to pin all the blame on Ed Miliband.  Doncha know, if it hadn't been for the "cynical partisanship" of the Labour leader then Cameron and Hague could now be getting their war on.  According to George Osborne, Red Ed now looks even less like a future prime minister, and Osborne ought to know, considering he's about as likely to follow on from Dave as I'm to be next Pope.

It's fairly pointless looking to opinion polls now, as the results show the public to be as hopelessly confused as usual on who's come out of it well, meaning that they either don't know or don't care, but even before the vote there looked to be a fairly massive majority against any strike on Syria.  Taking this into account, it seems just a little bit silly to be presenting Miliband as the one who put a stop to our taking part in an intervention, as, err, that could just increase his popularity.  The whole partisan argument doesn't even stand up to the slightest scrutiny in any case: the motions were all but identical for goodness sake, just that Labour's asked for more time.  If the coalition had read the situation properly, they could have switched to the Labour motion and still gotten their war.  As it was, both were defeated.

The problem for Cameron and Hague, but Hague especially, is this shows that apart from the keyboard warriors online and the bomb flingers of Fleet Street, his approach to Syria is incredibly unpopular.  If there was widespread opposition to arming the rebels, as there was, why did either think that inconclusive reports of the use of chemical weapons, horrific images from the scene or not, would change people's minds so drastically?  Their policy hasn't made any sense for months, and it's actually got even more ridiculous as time has gone by.  As Simon Jenkins writes, you don't punish a country's government for using chemical weapons by killing more innocent people on the ground, as such an intervention inevitably would.  You either don't get involved at all and push for a diplomatic solution, or you plan an assault that will make a genuine difference.

Which is precisely why John Kerry's sermon last Friday was so incongruous.  There he was making this great moral case for how the world couldn't ignore a crime against humanity, when there isn't the slightest evidence that what's actually being proposed would prevent another such use of gas.  If he was personally persuasive, the intelligence released alongside his speech was almost identical to that produced by our own spooks, and raised just as many questions as it answered.  He also gave the game away when he brought Iran and Hezbollah into it, those other actors in Syria who were mentioned while Saudi Arabia and Qatar were ignored.  If Hezbollah did want chemical weapons, they most surely could have got them by now, while the JIC briefing last week said rebel groups did want to get their hands on them.  Personally, I'm far more concerned about what al-Qaida and its friends could do with Sarin or VX than I am Hezbollah, but then al-Qaida only kills anyone it feels like while Hezbollah, err, defends Lebanon against Israel.  Israel, meanwhile, continues to neither confirm or deny it has nuclear weapons, while it most likely has chemical/biological weapons programmes too.

One conclusion to be reached is that rather than wanting to bring the civil war to an end, we actually want it to continue.  Israel, we are told, remains ambivalent, not surprisingly considering the lack of trouble Assad has caused the country, in spite of the continuing occupation of the Golan Heights.  It doesn't like his support for Hezbollah, but he's probably preferable to either the instability of what would come after, or indeed the Islamist regime that would be the most likely outcome.  We ourselves might follow Saudi policy in the region, but we don't particularly want the jihadis to have another potential safe haven, even if it means a dilution of Iranian power.  The conflict might have led to around 2 million people fleeing, but for now they mostly haven't tried to reach our shores, instead going to either Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey.  And as long as they're fighting each other, they're less concerned about targeting the West.

It would certainly explain why we favour only minimally striking Assad for the use of CW, when we went after Iraq not having the first idea how the war there would pan out.  It would also mean that despite all the rhetoric of how something must be done and the use of the most emotional language, we really couldn't care less about the Syrians themselves, something I've felt has been the case from the very beginning.

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