Iraq War has cast a shadow for too long

A dis­cus­sion about hu­man­i­tar­ian need should in­clude open de­bate about the pos­si­bil­ity of de­ploy­ing troops

The Scotsman - - Perspective -

The 2003 Iraq War casts a long shadow over United King­dom for­eign pol­icy. The blow­back against for­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Blair and those who sup­ported his de­ci­sion to com­mit Bri­tish troops to that con­flict has cre­ated in the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers an ex­treme cau­tion when it comes to mat­ters of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion.

This, in it­self, is no bad thing. The de­ploy­ment of troops must al­ways be the last re­sort. But when the cau­tion of politi­cians means a fail­ure to step in when it is both ap­pro­pri­ate and nec­es­sary, we are on shaky moral ground.

The UK gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional al­lies in­clud­ing France and the US are cur­rently dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary re­sponse to the al­leged use by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment of chem­i­cal weapons in an at­tack that killed more than 40 peo­ple in the town of Douma.

A typ­i­cally hot­headed in­ter­ven­tion by Don­ald Trump via Twit­ter on Wed­nes­day – in which he promised de­ploy­ment of “smart” bombs – set a dif­fi­cult tone. For­tu­nately, by yes­ter­day some of the heat had been taken out of the sit­u­a­tion.

French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who has pre­vi­ously said the use of chem­i­cal weapons in Syria would rep­re­sent a “red line”, de­clared that he had proof the regime of Bashar al-as­sad was be­hind the at­tack on Douma, but he was cau­tious about the next step, adding only that he would de­cide “in due course” whether to re­spond with air strikes.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked for a full in­tel­li­gence brief­ing on the sit­u­a­tion in Syria. He also wants any de­ci­sion on mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion to be put to a par­lia­men­tary vote.

Nat­u­rally, many who favour Bri­tain’s in­volve­ment in strikes against the As­sad regime will be deeply scep­ti­cal about Mr Corbyn’s in­ten­tions. He was, af­ter all, once chair­man of the Stop the War Coali­tion, which con­demns mil­i­tary ac­tion by western gov­ern­ments.

This lack of trust is at the heart of politi­cians’ in­abil­ity to move on from the Iraq War when dis­cussing pos­si­ble de­ploy­ment of Bri­tish troops. A com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic of those who felt strongly ei­ther way about the 2003 in­ter­ven­tion is the be­lief that those with whom they dis­agree are act­ing in bad faith.

It is time for our na­tional de­bate to get past Iraq and for politi­cians to hon­estly as­sess the mer­its of ac­tion on the ba­sis of hu­man­i­tar­ian need rather than po­lit­i­cal risk.

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