Yesterday evening, history was made. It wasn’t the type of history that disillusioned cross party “rebel” British MPs would like you to think though; it is the shameful type that we will speak off in disdain decades from now, along the lines of discussion we currently have of how the world let the Hutus commit mass slaughter against the Tutsis in 1994.
For a week now, the US and UK have been committing PR suicide. The speed at which John Kerry uttered “accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people” was remarkable. Yet within hours from that speech, the US retreated back to its hesitant ways and we all went back to questioning whether or not the US will indeed go ahead with punishing the man who has been committing the worst atrocities against his own people.
When the lists of potential Syrian military targets were published, effectively degrading the outcome of the strikes even further as Assad started to evacuate and reposition his stockpile, we felt the weakness in the US efforts, a loss of the element of surprise. A short while later, after David Cameron cut short his holiday and things started to look serious with naval ships moving around Cyprus and the Mediterranean, a meeting was held between the British PM and Labour leader Ed Miliband. The opposition leader gave his support to the PM after a series of exhaustive assurances including not taking any action before the UN report was due and giving parliament not one but two votes on the issue. Hours later though, Miliband abandoned his support and decided to vote against the government in a typical two-faced fashion. It was politics played on the back of the gassed Syrian children, narrow political interests without any care to the suffering of others.
Maher and Bashar Assad shared a bottle of Johnnie Walker and toasted their success
Watching the democratic yet brutally disillusioned raucous debate in the House of Commons yesterday was tough. It was painfully clear that many of those MPs simply had no comprehension of what was happening on the ground in Syria. Evidently the nonchalance of the British media towards the atrocities committed daily in Syria has worked; the British public and their MPs have become ambivalent towards the issue at best. The numbers of Syrians killed, more than 100.000, or those displaced, in their millions, has become yet another set of numbers that deserve little or no action in a country who historically preached morality in foreign policy.
The immediate consequences of the reckless decision taken by the UK Parliament might not be immediately known, but the long term is only going to benefit extremists in Syria. On one hand, Bashar Assad, now emboldened by Western ineptitude and disorientation, will go on to commit even more savagery against the distraught civilians of Syria. On the other hand, those very same civilians, now feeling weaker and more vulnerable than ever, would possibly welcome the influx of extremist Jihadis as their saviors. All the talk of internal civil resistance and awareness of the dangers of an Al-Qaeda style takeover of some areas of Syria has now been thrown into the abyss while the enlightened factions of the FSA continue to grow weaker in the North.
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The US has momentarily lost its strongest ally in the region, the glue that binds the EU/US relations on foreign policy issues. And with that the decision to strike Syria has become a tenfold tougher for an already apathetic Obama whose modus operandi was always to distance the US from all conflicts. The UK and France tipped the balance with the US on this; it would be quite futile to expect the US to still lead on this issue with gravitas.
And if our fears are true and the strike doesn’t go ahead or worst goes ahead but shies away from properly punishing Assad, this will set a very dangerous precedent and will all but kill the notion of progression interventionism. The world could enter a new phase where the use of internationally prohibited weapons on civilian populations becomes okay if you can get a permanent Security Council member to flaunt their veto powers and support you.
Furthermore, in the regional ongoing battle of wits, Putin and the Ayatollahs have scored an important 3 pointer. Whether they did so directly or indirectly is irrelevant at this critical point in the history of the region, what matters is what happens next with the UK’s global credibility in tatters and the US/UK relationship potentially taking a hiatus for a while.
But perhaps the worst consequence is the relief felt in Qardaha and Damascus yesterday. It gave the Assad regime feeling of victory and allowed him to further play on the anti-imperialist card. Thankfully that archaic rhetoric only works with a very small minority who are willing to put their ideologies and interests ahead of their humanity.
Somewhere in Damascus yesterday though, Maher and Bashar Assad shared a bottle of Johnnie Walker and toasted their success while they plotted more crimes against humanity. Somewhere else in Damascus yesterday, innocent civilians attempted to flee for their lives as Assad’s planes dropped Napalm bombs on them. In 2000, UN Secretary General Kofi Anan bravely said: “The international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret”, in 2013 we find ourselves saying the same, only about Syria. How is that for world justice?