If MPs are to do their duty today and hold the government to account on Syria, then they must resist David Cameron’s technique of generalising and essentialising the case for war. They must make him explain every detail, justify every assumption, and substantiate every claim.
Eight months ago, when justifying his decision to help the French intervention in Mali, Mr. Cameron tried to imply that anyone who disagreed with him was an isolationist. John Baron, one of the most perceptive Tory backbench critics of coalition foreign policy, innocuously asked if any assessment had been made of British interests in North Africa. Mr. Cameron responded: “I would very much caution against any sense that – I am not sure that my hon. Friend is saying this – if we did not involve ourselves by helping the French in Mali we would somehow make ourselves safer. Britain is a country that is open to the world and is part of international partnerships.” Unless you support a limitless doctrine of “mak[ing] the world safe all over the place” the Prime Minister often implies, then you want to pull us out of the UN and NATO and void any and all existing treaties.
Two months ago, when justifying his decision to lift the EU arms embargo, Mr. Cameron tried to argue that supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels was the only way Britain could contribute to the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. Due to the embargo, the West was unable to engage with “the official opposition” and provide them with “technical assistance, help and advice”. As a result, “extremists on both sides” have benefited: al-Assad continues to massacre his own people and militant Islamists have gained more power and influence over the fight against his regime. Unless you support flooding Syria with weapons, then you are abetting in the crimes of these two despicable forces.
In both January and June, MPs accepted Mr. Cameron’s generalising and essentialising without much quibbling. No one pointed out that by claiming those who disagreed with him were ‘isolationists’, the Prime Minister was mistaking Mali for the world. No one pointed out that Britain has provided “assistance, help and advice” to the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), but the reason why it has failed to make an impact on the fighting is because their competitors are just better at playing Syria’s ‘Game of Thrones' than they are.
This afternoon, Mr. Cameron will use the same rhetorical tricks to sell military action again. As I wrote in these pages the other day, the question MPs must press him on is why he believes airstrikes against the Assad regime will deter it from further chemical weapons use. This assumption has underpinned the heated arguments about Syria over the last couple of days, but it is as erroneous as the belief that airstrikes would deter Iran from developing a nuclear capability.
MPs must force the Prime Minister to draw a line from ‘bombing’ to ‘re-establishing the norm against chemical weapons use’.If they have to be ‘f****** c***s’ and ‘copper-bottomed s**ts’ to hold Mr. Cameron to account, then they can consider themselves the heirs of Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, and Duff Cooper.
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