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Friday, August 30, 2013

Europe reacts to David Cameron's defeat on Syria

Europe has reacted with surprise - and a degree of shock - to David Cameron's defeat in the House of Commons, which has de facto ruled out British participation in any potential military operation in Syria, at least for now. Here is a first round-up.

In an interview with Le Monde, French President François Hollande commented the outcome of the vote as follows,
Each country is sovereign [and can decide] to take part in a [military] operation or not. This is valid for the UK as well as for France.
Hollande suggests France could go ahead with or without the UK, and says,
If the [UN] Security Council is unable to act, a coalition will be formed. It will have to be the largest possible…It will have the support of the Europeans. But there are only few countries that have the capacity to inflict a sanction through the appropriate means. France is one of them. It’s ready [to act]. It will decide its position in close contact with its allies.
An editorial in Le Monde carries the headline, "The Commons vote against...Tony Blair", and notes,
It's the trauma of the Iraqi episode…that explains the 'no' of the British parliament to a [military] action in Syria. It's not David Cameron…who has been defeated. Rather, he pays for Tony Blair – as Mr Cameron himself acknowledged during the debate. 
As regards the international implications of yesterday's vote, the article goes on,
Washington has indicated that the decision of the UK – the privileged ally, the one of the 'special relationship' – would not stop the US intervening. But [the UK’s decision] can’t not embarrass Paris – even though, officially, France’s position remains that it is impossible not to react to the use of chemical weapons.
Germany's Die Welt has a comment piece entitled, "Cameron experiences his greatest humiliation". The article notes,
The refusal of the British House of Commons to participate in a military strike against Syria has left Cameron badly damaged - and with him the 'special relationship' with the United States.
Die Welt's chief correspondent Michael Strümer stresses how, once again, when it comes to 'hard power' the EU disappears. He writes,
While all eyes are on Washington, New York, Moscow, and on Damascus, Ankara, Cairo and Jerusalem, awkward silence reigns in Brussels…In the corridors of powerlessness in Brussels you can sense frustration and little momentum.
Christian Zaschke of Süddeutsche Zeitung describes the vote as,
A political slap in the face of historic proportions” for the Prime Minister, adding that it will define his tenure…On the international stage, [Britain] will be taken less seriously.
In Denmark, the only other EU country that has signalled it might take part in a strike, political leaders have this morning signalled that the country remains committed - although Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal also warned that the UK vote "calls for reflection".

When asked about the vote, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski dodged the question, replying that it is important to have confidence in the UN inspectors' evidence. Sikorski also suggested that a possible solution could be for Russia to secure the Syrian regime's chemical weapons stockpiles - as the majority of them dates from Soviet times.
In Spain, an article in El País under the headline, "A blow to Cameron", argues that, as a result of the vote,
The British Prime Minister sees his authority seriously dwindled and, in an unprecedented event in the country’s modern history, has lost control over foreign policy.
Italian political commentator Gianni Riotta notes in La Stampa,
Paradoxically, Hollande, a French Socialist, seems to be the ‘hawk number one’. After securing a very prudent pension reform, he’s now trying to use strength against an ex colony inherited by the Turks to titillate the nation’s imperial pride – although Cameron’s defeat will lead him to take a milder stance.
We will keep updating the blog with any other interesting reactions throughout the day.


Rollo said...

We all like to see that ass Cameron being squashed.
We do not want to arm Islamic militants.
We do not want boots on the ground.
We do not want unreasonable demands made of our troops.
We do not want ego-inflating wars.

We do not want to stand by while innocent civilians including children are being bombed or poisoned or burnt alive.

There are things we can do:
Establish a no fly zone, as we did in Iraq for many years.
Take out selected artillery sites; they are being observed; we know when they fire and where they aim. We can hit them from Houston.

Doing nothing is morally bankrupt.


Anonymous said...

How can PM Cameron be considered weakened internationally when a democratic vote has made the decision?

Denis Cooper said...

There's so much nonsense around all of this.

Are we to suppose that this century old protocol prohibiting the use of chemical weapons had gone missing during the Iran-Iraq war, and when Saddam was using them against Kurds, and it has just been re-discovered?

Is it OK for maybe 100,000 Syrians to be killed by means other than chemical weapons, but if there are maybe 1000 more deaths which are attributable to chemical weapons then those responsible, not quite sure who, must be punished?

Has Hollande asked the elected representatives of the French people whether they agree with him about deploying French forces on such illogical grounds?

And what about Obama, has he done that yet in the US?

Rik said...

The first law of war is simple take care you win it.
From that pov this whole exercise simply doesnot make any sense.

As things look now Assad will be winning this one unless there will be massive interference from a strong outside party.
For massive action from the West however there is no platform at all be it public opinion or political in any of the major countries.

So the actions as suggested by Obomba, Hollande and earlier by Cameron are just backing up a near sure loser. Which is from many angles moronic. Mainly because of the fact that the more the West would do without being decisive the more likely and the larger the repurcussions would be.

The only realistic results for say the UK in this game would have been decoupling Syria from Iran and Hezbollah. A chance now gone. Or a regime change not within the present regime (such would likely make things worse). The latter would however require a massive action (and a truckload of money to pay for it).

Anyway with several very dodgy people in the rebel camp, even in case of regime change it is doubtful if things for the West would improve.
The Saoudis might think they have them partly in their pocket, but when these group have the possibility to get via taxation/extorsion to funding that will be an illusion.

Anyway as the cards are dealt now it is probably in the West's interest that Assad wins and get rid of apparently 60K religious idiots or at least as many as possible. Which he undoubtedly will do more efficient than the UK government. I doubt if there will be much taxpayer paid legal representation for instance.

From the point of the civil war. The situation is pretty screwed up largely also because the of the Florence Nightingale syndrom the West seems to to suffer from in the Arab spring. These are 2 groupos that hate each other made worse by including a bunch of religious nuts. Both have very little opportunity to get out of this in any other way. From that angle one of the parties needs to win it. With Assad backed by most minorities likely the best bet for as little as possible bloody aftermath.
The rebels that are acceptable as 'other party' are not the main fighting force. So pretty useless to deal with them as the rest will keep on shooting. Hard to see anyway how anybody is going into negotiations with a bunch of foreign religious nuts anyway. Only safe way to deal with them is shoot them.

Odrona has completely messed up the relation with Russia. Thinking that the West could get regime change and take at the same time Putin's finger out of the pie without nothing in return is dreaming. This likely could have been solved in a much friendlier way if Putin could have kept his finger in one pie or another.

Iran has now actively become involved and has strengthened its position. Hard to see how any friendly settlement could be arived without them. If any would be possible anyway as mentioned above.

Anonymous said...

I am pleased that the parliament has said no, we have not yet heard from the UN mission, there is no strategy yet developed, and more pertantly no desired outcome or exit strategy, without knowing why you are taking action and what you hope to achieve by that action no action should be taken.

jon livesey said...

I think that the one thing missing from today's discussion - apart from the almost universal misunderstanding of Parliament's actual power in military matters - is any consideration of what the West actually wants from the Syrian situation.

Syria is, in the words of the old joke, more a geographical expression than a nation. Syria is just a collection of provinces from the old Ottoman Empire that lie within borders drawn by the French and British in 1916.

Those borders were accepted because almost anything was preferable to remaining within either the Empire of the genocidal Republic that followed it, but that still doesn't make Syria a nation.

Syria is roughly 75% Sunni, 13% Shia and 10% Christian, so it has roughly as good a chance of living at peace with itself as, say, Lebanon or Iraq. Iran, which is 90% Shia, has a much better chance of remaining whole, simply because of the dominance of the majority religion.

So the West needs to take some time to decide what it wants. Does it want a Syria that is officially one nation, but which periodically erupts into civil war? Or would it be better for Syria to break up into smaller but more coherent nations.

In fact, would it be preferable to push for the self-determination of all the successor statelets of the Ottoman Empire, including Kurds and so on, even if that offends today's Turkey.

I think we should have learned from the Thirties what happens when you break up a multi-ethnic Empire, but then create a constellation of smaller countries, each of which has its own minorities issues, which can be exploited by any aggressive power seeking to make trouble.

Only after we take the time to figure out what we really want, should we then use military power to make it happen. Using military power to "send a message" is just pointless.

Rollo said...

There must be an informed debate back in Parliament when the UN inspectors report is made public.
The Napalm attack on a school followed this vote; my guess is that had it happened the day before, the vote would have gone the other way. Nobody has come out well out of this political posturing.

Joe said...

Rollo, who should police the no flight zone? Without the RAF facilities which are only a stones throw away the rest of the EU doesn't have the capacity for a long term arrangement & the cost is too prohibitive for our distressed armed forces to be tied to for any length of time. Both sides are equally odious & should be left to fight it out.

Ray said...

Neither side deserves to win, so neither side deserves any help. The people between them need to be rescued. The cost of any action is going to run into billions, why not use a large percentage of that money to pull as many people out of Syria areas under fire and then restrict the fighting to those areas by no fly zones.Damascus might have to be written off but it is their country, save as many of the population as you can and they can start again.

Rik said...

have a look where the different groups are located.
You simply cannot draw proper borders there. Not even for the Kurds who are next to the big cities located in 2 seperate areas.
You could cut the country in some larger pieces, country size pieces but nearly all would have the same problems as you would like to solve.
And most of the areas when split into small pieces have simply no basis to be a viable state. Water, access to the sea all a major problem.

The only solution is one country. May be two, but still both with similar problems as said. So why do the extra effort and solve nothing.

Next to the fact that modernity has caused many to move to the large cities especially the 2 biggies Aleppo and Damascus). Where the groups are living close to each other (like Baghdad).

Next to the West always nearly going for existing (semi) borders .
One of the problems in Kosovo. Its North is Serb but part of Kosovo. And a very likely source of future problems. As all these states are hardly very democratic whatever the system, with things like a minority being properly protected.

From there as I see it 2 models are possible an Assad like model. Strong central leadership, violent if necessary. Probably with someone from a minority (and non Christian) as leader/ruler. Majorities often have the idea that the rest should be like them or has to be discriminated. Christians a no go for religious sensitivities. leaves effectively Assad's group btw.
And likely unacceptable for the present 'freedomfighters/terrorists and their mainly Sunni backers.
Or a more decentralised form. But hard to see that work in countries that have a government that wants to hold grip and large groups that want to have their own lifestyle.
Both scenarios look very hard to realise in the present situation and other scenarios simply donot seem viable longer term.

Simply a bit of a mess. The West should have traded the uprising against consessions on Libanon/Hezbollah, Iran, peace with Israel. But that chance has gone. Nice being fair and human right watching but 100K+ and counting is a high price to pay for that.
Best the West can do now is damage limitation for its own national interest and budget.

The only advantage I can see is that one of Iran's allies is weakened. But made much more unstable and unreliable at the same time. So if that is really an advantage has to be seen.

jon livesey said...

Rik: "..have a look where the different groups are located. You simply cannot draw proper borders there."

Thanks for the "sage advice". Naturally it would never have occurred to me to look at a map. Sigh, some people.

In fact it was *after* looking at a map that I wrote what I did. Even the wiki page lists where the different religions are concentrated, and makes it abundantly clear that you certainly can divide up a place like Syria and end up with smaller and more cohesive areas.

And what is your alternative? To preserve the fiction of a Syrian "nation state" that is a Western invention? A "nation state" constantly at war with itself?

That's a crazy idea. If you count Allawites as a minority Shia group, the division becomes obvious. The Shia region is the North-West bordering on the Mediterranean, the Sunni majority are in the Centre, East and South, while the Christians and Druzes are enclaves within the majority areas.

We know how this works. After the fall of the USSR, Czechoslovakia was divided up. After the end of Yugoslavia the West partitioned the Balkans.

It's our choice. We can pay the cost of putting peace-keepers in, or we can watch hundreds of thousand of people dying in civil wars that end up deciding absolutly nothing.

Rollo said...

A no fly zone would stop napalm attacks on schools. Artillery sites that bombard civilian areas can be seen firing; and eliminated. That it what is going to happen. The vacuous cowardice of our political class is a repeat of the EU weakness in Srebrinice: look you can't have arms, we will move you into our safe area; we will protect you. Oh dear, here comes an enemy, let's flee and leave you to be massacred. The same weakness. Thank goodness for the Americans.

Rollo said...

If democracy dies, it will not be because of foreign invasion, fascism, communism or anything: it will be the feeble weakness of our political class, who have done nothing since birth but climb the slippery pole. Cameron Blair Clegg Miliband and all their fellow travellers. YUK

Anonymous said...

It would appear that Camaroon for once got it right, now the other nations who were so gung ho are also talking to their politicians, and not getting the attack mentality from them.

Rik said...

If you look at the map as seperate states I can only see 2 regions working. Damascus and surroundings in cluding the area East of the Libanon border. And the North West which has see access.

Damascus already has a water and logistical problem but let assume that it works.
Add the other areas to it.
Leaves Damasus with a huge minority (probably majority Sunni) and Aleppo and Co with still a huge part of the Alavites.
Kurdish region is in no way viable and the most endangered minority Christians live within the other states. Doubtful if that will work anyway.
People have also moved to the big cities look at Baghdad how that will play out.

There simply doesnot seem to be a solution in the Western way of thinking )a stable situation from that moment forward). It is not without reason that these problems like in the Balkan (but even worse) have been going on for millenia.

So imho you should forget the Western type solution (you will only get deeply frustrated) and move to damage control or self interest.
These are the only to points of view that will work.

Damage control get a dictator in place (Western occupation doesnot work and has no platform and is unaffordable/unsustainable anyway).
And as said earlier leaving Assad being in the wrong camp on other issues (Iran) probably an Assad type of guy. No religious nut; willing to take hard measures to guarantee stability; and p
probably from one of the minorites (as it will keep all minorities probably best protected)

Selfinterest as long as they donot interrupt the flow of oil and donot come all to the UK let them nicely kill each other if they have to (apparently their hobby).

Problem in Western political thinking is that:
- there is always a solution (and a short term one); as well as
- that solution always needs acting (iso sometimes laissez fair); and
- the West always needs to play a role and can be a dominant player.

The West clearly has huge problems learning the lessons that that is not the standard procedure in a lot of situations. You cannot keep shooting yourself in the foot.

Will Podmore said...

It was an historic House of Commons vote, the first time in 200 years that Parliament has refused a government request for support of an attack on another country. The one way to make the bad situation is Syria even worse would be for outside powers to attack the country,
A ComRes poll for The Independent, 30 August – 1 September, asked 1,000 people whether they agreed that, “The experience of the Iraq war means that Britain should keep out of any military conflicts in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.” 62 per cent agreed; 31 per cent did not.
It also asked whether they agreed that, “The United States, without Britain, should launch military air strikes on Syria to deter it from using chemical weapons in future.” 29 per cent agreed; 57 per cent did not.

Average Englishman said...

The average Englishman is somewhat puzzled by all of this.
He (or she) doesn't want UK money or lives spent on any more vain glorious foreign wars but on the other hand, no one likes to see people subjected to genocide, (whether it's by way of nerve gas or high explosive seems irrelevant to me; they're just as dead either way) and I accept that it is morally reprehensible for the world to do nothing.
I have no sympathy for Cameron, who continually apes Tony B. Liar's worst attributes whilst it would seem he does not have Tony's ability to organize a team behind him that works properly.
Instinct as much as logic tells me that throwing £1m a time cruise missiles at Assad is not really going to help the situation much and I have no wish to save 'rebel' women and children at the expense of 'regime' women and children killed in air strikes. My concern is to look after the innocents as best possible and right now I think the provision of massive amounts of aid would be more helpful to the situation (and a lot safer and cheaper for the UK) than bombs from anyone.
Also, why is it always the West that has to deal with these situations? The arab states located close by have plenty of oil money and could do much, much more to help the people affected by this war.
And the hypocrysy of the raging concern about the death of civilians in Syria is staggering; millions of people have died in The Congo over the last decade and elsewhere in Africa and no-one on the UN Security Council seems to really give a s**t.
As for another vote in Parliament and another try to get the UK fully involved; I remain to be convinced and want to see some very valid reasons put forward along with some very sensible objectives that can be readily achieved by any action our forces may get involved in before I will agree to back anyone wishing to emulate Rambo again.