Syria has almost disappeared from the Westminster agenda. After what many of us thought the fiasco of the 'recall' of Parliament over two weeks ago, its no longer a 'hot' issue. But it remains hugely important. I felt the need to reflect on where I see things at today. No doubt the perspective will change again over the next few months/years. Would not be surprised to be drawn into the occasional post on the issue.
It now seems fairly clear that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people. This will be confirmed by the UN. Use of such weapons has been a worldwide taboo for a century, and crosses an internationally agreed 'red line'. There has to be an international response. If not, the message to offensive dictatorships are obvious. So far most of us will agree. Where we might disagree is the form that response should take. Initially, it seemed that the US President and the UK Prime Minister favoured military intervention - generally thought to be limited to Tomahawk rockets being used to degrade Assad's military capacity. Many MPs, across all parties did not favour this course - certainly without a much stonger and more stategic case being made. Many were unsure that such a strike would improve the security position in the Middle East. And many of us wanted certainty about what the precise objectives of the strike were to be. The upshot was that the motion put before MPs did not authorise military intervention - which meant I could support it. In the event, the 'meaningless' motion was defeated, as was a meaningless amendment tabled by the Opposition. No motion of any sort was passed. I did not good position for the British Govt to be in. I would have preferred options to have been kept open. But the Prime Minister was left with little choice other than to act as he did - telling us he "gets it", and immediately announced that there would be no British involvement in any military action.
Reality is that the only world military power capable of a meaningful strike is the US, and it soon became clear that despite all his threats and posturing about action, President Obama decided not to. What followed is too convoluted for a blog post. Reality is that instead, Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin took over leadership of the issue. He is now leading the talks on removing chemical weapons from Syrian soil, allowing President Obama to give impression to his electorate that he's still calling some shots. In the short term this is a very good result. None of us can predict where military action would have led. But it seems to me that there are two significant consequences. Firstly, Bashar-al-Assad is now secure as the Syrian leader. While the leaders of the world are discussing with Assad the decommissioning of his chemical weapons, there can hardly be a serious attempt to remove him from office. And secondly, Syria is now securely within the ambit of Russian influence. Assad owes Putin big-time. Syria may well become, in effect, part of a new Russian empire. In terms of international politics, Mr Putin has played a 'blinder' and is the only and overwhelming victor of the gas attack on innocent people by Assad.
Perhaps it will look a bit different in a few weeks time.