The House of Commons vote against war on 29 August was historic. Not since Lord North failed to get a majority to continue to fight the US War of Independence in 1782 has Parliament refused a government motion to back a war.
Everything was arranged. Obama was ready. The RAF was all set to send Typhoons to Cyprus. But the British people’s consistent 2-1 opposition stopped the proposed war.
“We are a hugely diminished country [this morning],” tweeted Paddy Ashdown the next day, bemoaning the onset of an era of absence of influence. Far from it: the vote was one of Parliament’s most influential ever. It stopped war in Syria – certainly for the time being – and possibly stopped a world war. Obama had said it would be a local, limited war. Don’t all wider wars start with that promise?
We can be proud of our country’s role. There are thousands alive today in Syria who would be dead but for that vote.
It was a huge defeat for the notion that NATO powers have the right and duty to intervene where they see fit. The USA has halted its drive to war; President Obama was forced to consult Congress; and the French government was forced to debate the issue in that country’s parliament. Britain can indeed have influence – and, for once, for the good.
China and Russia have refused to agree to a UN Security Council resolution against Syria and rightly state that any action without the UN would be an illegal act of aggression.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was only Russia on the Security Council opposing Obama’s strike. President Putin has become the whipping boy of the western media – everything is his fault, apparently. China also supports negotiation and opposes intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. But how often do you read that?
Beware the media assault on Putin – or on any other foreign leader for that matter. The people who decide the lead items on TV and in print pick their enemies with political care.
There is still a grave danger that the US will attack Syria. And parts of the British state want to reverse the vote and join a US war. The odious François Hollande, humiliated and isolated, is still clamouring for a war mandate.
But don’t take your eyes off British politicians for one minute. Cameron and his foreign secretary, William Hague, are still promoting and hoping for war. Only relentless vigilance and pressure from the British people can stay their hands.
We now have to go further, take responsibility, and take power from those who would plunge us all into a new world war. ■