Sophy Gardner: The choice in Syria is not simply between action and inaction
THE use of chemical weapons is wrong, illegal and condemned, including by the leadership in Iran.
As an ex-member of the Armed Forces, intimately involved in the invasion of Iraq, I remain deeply concerned about the relationship between political power, the use of military power and our deficit in understanding the machineries of government – particularly in terms of the relationship between the UK and the US. I have seen British politicians seduced, and I use that term advisedly, by their role as leaders and by the power that they wield.
I have been involved in military interventions throughout my adult life. I have also written about them for Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and Military Staff College academic courses. For me, an understanding of legitimacy, end states and outcomes is critical to success, but I haven't seen this properly articulated in relation to Syria by David Cameron and his government.
We don't honestly know who we want to prevail in Syria of those currently fighting (different from who we don't want to – Assad on the one hand and Islamic fundamentalists on the other). We don't know what Assad would do if military 'hard power' is used. Legally, we might have been able to act under the responsibility to protect, but it was not clear how we could achieve that with 'surgical' strikes. We may have wished to punish Assad but this also is hard to do without punishing others in Syria too. I would rather see Assad and his co-conspirators face justice directly in court as war criminals.
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Escalation was for me a matter of grave concern. Once military strikes have been carried out, there would be no going back.
For me, Cameron's approach failed because of the manner in which he approached it, the timings and process involved, the language he used and the content of his argument.
The recall of Parliament and Cameron's clear wish to get a decision made by this weekend signalled a momentum with which the country was uncomfortable. The decision and vote was presented as action versus inaction – either supporting military intervention or 'doing nothing' in the manner of an appeaser. Yet the myriad options that lie between no action and military action are those of 'soft power', and these options remain at our disposal. Through diplomacy and aid, through the use of our contacts and relationships with the international community, Britain can still play an important and positive role.
My position is not against the principle of military intervention in any circumstance – but against Cameron's argument for intervention at this time. I note with interest that two of the Tory rebels are ex-RAF with service in Iraq and the Balkans. Military service in recent times brings with it a particular insight into the realities of committing hard power.