The United Kingdom Stands Taller In The World Today

Posted on Fri 09/06/2013 by


FSM_DanielHannanCE_20090409By Daniel Hannan ~20120710_KERRY_REPORTING_FOR_DUTY

You won’t be reading this in many places, but here goes. Parliament’s rejection of military action in Syria has been good for David Cameron and bad for Ed Miliband. More to the point, it has been good for our standing in the world.

Good for David Cameron? How can I possibly say such a thing? Hasn’t he just been “undermined,” “fatally weakened,” “given a bloody nose” and subjected to every other journalistic cliché? The newspapers assure us so: for 72 hours, headlines have reflected the Westminster obsession with which party is “having a good day.” But entertain the possibility that most people are less interested in the effectiveness of the Tory whipping operation than in whether we bomb Syria.

A lobby correspondent, seeing a prime minister concede defeat in a Commons vote, automatically thinks: “U-turn, humiliation.” A non-journalist is likelier to think: “Cameron listened to the country; what a nice change after Blair.” When the PM rose after the vote, I was expecting him to stall: to say that he took note of the wide variety of opinions expressed, that he would be making a statement in due course and yada yada. Instead, he was a model of dignity: he accepted with good grace that the country was against intervention, and promised to honour Parliament’s decision.

No one could apply the word “dignity” to Ed Miliband’s revolting behaviour. While the debate was underway, I chided a handful of my fellow Conservatives for the tone of their attacks on the Opposition leader. When weighing a decision with life-or-death consequences, I Tweeted crossly, it was shallow to trot out soundbites about weak leadership. Miliband, I felt, might reasonably argue either for or against intervention, and deserved to be listened to with respect either way.

The trouble is, he did neither. I don’t think anyone has the faintest idea whether he is for or against air-strikes. I’m not sure he has properly considered the question in his own mind. Instead, he was driven by two considerations. First, to show that he wasn’t Tony Blair. Second, to dish the Tories. If you think I’m being uncharitable, read this devastating summary by Dan Hodges, who is so disgusted at Miliband’s opportunism that he has left the Labour Party.

But what of the bigger picture – the notion that Britain stands reduced and dishonoured in the counsels of the world? What of the damage to the Anglo-American alliance? What of the humiliation of standing by and watching the Americans go ahead with the French, whom John Kerry praised yesterday as “our oldest ally?”

Such concerns are based on a truly bizarre view of the special relationship – or, rather, based on the view taken by extreme anti-Americans. It assumes that the US-UK alliance amounts to an unconditional requirement on Britain always and everywhere to back American military action. You hear this line in places like Venezuela and Iran. I recently had it put to me, somewhat obsessively, by this Russian TV interviewer. But surely hardly anyone in Britain or in the United States thinks in such terms.

Several hawkish and Anglophile Americans don’t want to get involved in Syria. Donald Rumsfeld, for example, has consistently argued that it would do more harm than good. John Bolton, who has always been a strong friend to Britain, sees it as a terrible misdeployment of resources, and tells Tim Stanley that Parliament’s decision will do no harm whatever to the alliance of the English-speaking powers.

It’s true that Barack Obama probably feels let down. Frankly, though, that is a problem of his own making. Why are chemical weapons the sole “red line” in a war that has seen prisoners mutilated and shot, civilians deliberately targeted, informers beheaded? Because, in a rambling an unscripted reply to a journalist’s question on 20 August last year, President Obama said so:

A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

Just moving them around? What about moving just a small quantity rather than “a whole bunch?” Are we seriously supposed to bomb a country, not as part of a UN force or an Arab League-run mission, but more or less alone, because of a red line scrawled so imprecisely?

Ask yourself this. Had it been the other way around, would President Obama be backing us? We are currently involved in two major diplomatic disputes, one with Spain and one with Argentina. In the first, the Obama administration is studiously neutral. In the second, as Nile keeps pointing out, it leans toward Argentina. Obama, as I’ve blogged before, is the least pro-British president the US has had since the nineteenth century. Our alliance with the United States is far larger than what happens to suit is present Commander in Chief.

You won’t find a stronger supporter of the Anglo-American alliance than me. The readiness of the English-speaking peoples to fight side by side is perhaps the strongest force for liberty in the world. It defeated the Nazis. It defeated the Soviets. It spread freedom to every continent and archipelago. Sometimes, it required us to send soldiers to distant lands where our immediate interests were few, but where the wider interests of the Anglosphere were in the balance. The Korean War, for example, advanced no British purpose, but it convinced the Soviets that they faced a determined and united adversary. Military action in Syria is not in the same category. Neither the United Kingdom nor the United States has any obvious national interest in that ancient country.

As for the idea that there is something wrong with sitting back while the French engage, a reversal of what happened in Iraq, surely that would be the obvious historical division of responsibilities. Iraq was a British protectorate, Syria a French one. My chief argument throughout has been that, of all the countries in the Levant and the Middle East, Syria is the one where we have the least responsibility. If our French friends want to get involved, we should wish them well. I can see why it’s their business; but it’s not ours.

Has our non-participation strengthened the anti-American tendency on Britain’s far Left? No. It’s true that Stop the War types, who loathe all US military interventions on principle, are against this one, too. But they represent a tiny sliver of the electorate, nothing like the two thirds who are unpersuaded by the case for bombing Assad.

Many more people oppose this particular campaign while warmly supporting the Atlantic alliance. Quite a few of us, I suspect, could be persuaded to take a stronger line elsewhere in the region if our interests were under threat: to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, for example. Indeed, there are circumstances where we might back action against the Syrian regime – if, say, it were to carry out an act of war against our Nato ally, Turkey.

But, as things stand, the case for an intervention has not been convincingly made. A majority of Britons and a majority of Americans, oppose it. In speaking for that majority, Parliament is not undermining the Anglosphere, but reaffirming the democratic values that make it worth defending. Contributor Daniel Hannan is an British writer and journalist, and has been a Conservative MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the EU is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free. He is the winner of the Bastiat Award for online journalism.

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