Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)
So often when I witness the news reports coming in from Syria showing the after effects of the chemical attacks and incendiary bombs my heart aches for those who have been affected. Like so many of us I want to see and end to the suffering and loss of innocent life that Syria is inflicting on itself. I have little doubt that this too is the case for our nation’s leaders along with those from many other countries. To turn our backs on such evils and deliberately ignore them is not just heartless, it is plain wrong. For those who actually have the power to intervene and potentially change the situation, they have to go far beyond the theoretical arguments and opinions that the man in the street holds to making decisions that could mean life or death for others. I doubt many of us would want that responsibility.
- Is military action intended to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons and, if so, what action might achievably serve as an effective deterrent?
- Is military action intended to weaken Assad’s military strength and disrupt his ability to fight his civil war – and, if so, how achievable is this, especially when the civil war is being fought by monsters on both sides?
- Is military action intended to target stocks of chemical weapons and render them useless – and, if so, how does blowing them up not create an even bigger chemical problem?
- Why is mass murder using chemical weapons the trigger for military intervention when sustained and systematic mass murder using ‘conventional’ weaponry was not?
- Is military action intended to make a difference on the ground in Syria, or to salve the consciences of those who look on helplessly from outside?
- What is the point of the United Nations when resolutions can be sought, but subsequently overridden by ‘exceptional circumstances’?
As a result of these and other concerns my personal view has been that military intervention at this moment in time is not appropriate, despite the situation of the Syrian people. I was therefore pleased (though surprised) that the motion was not passed. Yet despite this I came away from watching the political drama feeling troubled.
Thursday night’s vote was a sign that democracy can still be powerful in this country and this should be welcomed. The Government did not get its way but this does not make it a humiliation for David Cameron as much of the press and some in opposition touted endlessly the day after. He did make mistakes or poor choices though. Recalling MPs early, cutting their break short was unlikely to please many, especially when waiting a few more days to allow progress at the UN and intelligence information to be released would have significantly strengthened his case and allowed all MPs to return. However he did attempt to build a consensus across the political spectrum taking into account some of the lessons from the build up to the Iraq conflict. He listened to the concerns of others, especially Ed Miliband and tempered his own enthusiasm for a military strike by making concessions and changing the vote from military action to the allowance of military action following a subsequent vote. He clearly presented his case alongside Nick Clegg and asked Parliament to side with him, but despite his efforts it chose not too.
The vote still might have been won if Labour hadn’t done a last-minute about turn and voted against the motion en mass. In the days leading up to the vote Ed Miliband had gone to the Prime Minister five times asking for changes and guarantees to be made to the motion. In each case David Cameron agreed. yet despite these assurances Ed Miliband decided to do his own thing. If this was the plan all along, why make all these demands leading up to the vote? We’re still left wondering where Ed Miliband stands on the issue and if this was in fact callow party political behaviour. The cheers and hollering from the opposition benches following the announcement of the vote result only appears to strengthen this possibility.
As soon as the coverage of this vote descended into reporting tribal politics, the real issue of the plight of the Syrian people was by and large pushed to the side. This was never going to be a straightforward vote and it would seem to be a case where it should have been a free one, where MPs could vote based on their moral judgement rather than towing the party line. The war in Syria is far too serious an issue to be playing games and looking to score points against others.
When it comes to leadership, there is no greater quality than integrity. Whether it be church, business or political leaders we need people we can trust to be honest and dependable looking to serve the common good rather than their own interests. At the same time leaders shouldn’t be seen as weak just because they don’t get their own way all the time or if they make mistakes. How they respond to this says just as much about their character.
Judging by the media coverage, it’s easy to find those who were not impressed or happy with the way either David Cameron or Ed Miliband handled themselves over Syria, but at the end of the day I would much rather be living in a country led by either of them than in one ruled by a murderous despot like President Assad. For that I am constantly thankful.