August 29, 2013 (TSR) – Don’t do it – that’s the clear advice to prime minister David Cameron this morning from national newspapers of every political hue in the face of his call to take military action against Syria.
The Daily Mail‘s full-page editorial, “If our MPs STILL have any doubts, they’ve a moral duty to vote no”, is unequivocal in its opposition to a punitive strike against Bashar al-Assad.
Today’s motion may be “a confection of waffle and compromise”, says the Mail, “but at its heart [it] remains an invitation to MPs to approve in principle a British missile attack on Assad.”
Despite Assad’s barbarism, the paper “makes an impassioned plea to MPs on both sides of the house” to think again. It reminds them – and its readers – of the “conclusive evidence” that Tony Blair and the White House produced to take us to war in Iraq.
And it argues that for “greater certainty this time” the evidence must be right, as Labour leader Ed Miliband has insisted “after much shilly-shallying”, and Cameron “now appears to accept.”
If Assad’s guilt is firmly established “MPs must also be fully satisfied that an attack on the sovereign nation of Syria is permissible under international law.”
And the Mail implies that it would be uncomfortable about action even if Assad was responsible and the legality was underlined. It states:
“What appears to be planned is a mere gesture to show that the US president meant what he said when he warned that ‘consequences’ would flow from crossing his red line…
MPs should remember their special duty to Britain’s national interest and to their own constituents, most of whom want nothing to do with another foreign war.”
The popular will is also cited by the Daily Express in its leader, which says:
“Opinion polls show that the British people – both those of a left-wing and a right-wing disposition – have had enough of being dragged into half-baked military interventions.”
Headlined “Nigel Farage echoes the people’s view on Syria”, the paper praises the Ukip leader, saying he “has hit the nail on the head with his trenchant attack on the clamour at Westminster for military action.”
It concludes: “It is not up to Britain to be the world’s policeman and indeed our imperial baggage would make it impossible for us to perform that role to good effect even if we had the military muscle to do so.”
Next to the editorial is a polemic by Leo McKinstry, headlined “Hellbent on war, but what about problems at home?”
The Daily Telegraph, in company with the Mail, reminds readers of Blair’s speech to the commons in March 2003, when he “marshalled a moral, legal, geopolitical and humanitarian case” for attacking Iraq.
But it too points to the reluctance of the British people to back military action and calls for “a day for clarity from the prime minister”
It views Miliband’s amendment, which demands that UN inspectors be allowed to finish their work before parliament etches a final decision, as a political manoeuvre to rescue him from “an ugly hole, given that his party’s policy has been one of incoherent prevarication.”
But its main message is to Cameron: “If he is to win over a sceptical public, he must offer absolute clarity about the basis for this proposed action and its intended consequences.”
Again, with 2003 in mind, the Telegraph says we “need to be told as much as possible about the intelligence showing that the gas was deployed by Assad’s forces” and to see the legal advice to the cabinet.”
It also runs a piece by Peter Oborne, “The rush to judgment on Syria is a catastrophic and deadly error”, in which he concludes:
“As Talleyrand said of the Bourbon monarchs, London and Washington have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing since the invasion of Iraq. They are showing the same contempt for evidence, for international institutions and for the lessons of history.”
It accuses him of a “fudge because Labour accepts that chemical weapons have been used” and “cannot honestly argue that it needs the report of the inspectors to be sure whether hundreds of people, including many children, died in the most horrible of circumstances.”
The Times acknowledges that “many British people believe strongly that it would be a mistake to take military action” but nevertheless urges Miliband to “show a degree of courage and leadership” rather than “sitting it out.” The paper continues:
“It would be quite a big step for the Labour party… it would announce that Labour believes Britain should not join western allies in punishing a grotesque act…
It would proclaim that Labour will not stand side by side with fellow social democrats such as Barack Obama and François Hollande, that it will not play its part in a western coalition at a time when that coalition has its most liberal leadership for more than 30 years.
This would be an important statement of Labour policy. Yet even this would be preferable to sitting on the sidelines lobbing in questions and hoping for the crisis to pass.”
The Sun, in company with The Times, does not make it entirely clear whether it will support intervention it sees as “inevitable.” It prefers instead to attack Miliband who, it accuses of “flip-flopping between supporting a strike against Assad and sitting on the fence.” It says:
“Miliband’s paralysis in the face of a crisis echoes that of President Obama. He has dithered for two years while tens of thousands of Syrian people have died — then backed himself into a corner with a meaningless ultimatum.”
The Sun is eager for a deal to be brokered at the UN “to oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile”. Meanwhile it backs action:
“Mr Cameron yesterday said we can not stand by while Assad attacks his own people with such obscene weapons. He is right. So this must be punishment deferred, not abandoned.”
The Daily Mirror views Miliband’s initiative as “a victory for common sense” and reflects the dilemma facing all MPs:
“The world must not stand by idly but would Britain striking at Syria by the answer?…We need to think long and hard before we act. The Syrian civil war is complex and bitter. There are evil forces, sadly, on both sides.
Do we really want to be on the side of al-Qaeda terrorists butchering their way across Syria? We think not. Syria needs a ceasefire and peace talks in Geneva.
We should be exerting whatever pressure we can on Russia and China to persuade Assad to enter meaningful dialogue.”
But the Mirror keeps its options open: “To rule out military action forever is not
our argument. But the public is right to be sceptical about another war now.”
The Guardian’s leading article registers concern about the call to arms: “After eight western interventions in Arab or Muslim countries in 15 years, sceptical generals and a hostile western public at large are entitled… to demand clarity from their political leaders.” It continues:
“The consequences of an airstrike, under which Mr Assad’s forces would not noticeably buckle, could be far-reaching. After a civil war that is killing 5,000 every month and has created 1.8 million refugees… the primary objective of all regional powers has got to be to stop it.”
It believes an airstrike could “give the rebels the impression that if the US could be prevailed upon to strike once, they could be called upon to strike again.”
It will disturb the balance of forces in the region, he writes, “affecting not only the struggle within Syria but regional confrontation between Sunni and Shia and between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
And also in the Indy, Steve Richards touches on the echoes of 2003 in writing that “the imprecision of the language en route to war remains depressingly the same.” He writes:
“The vaguely made assertions come down to the following claim: not acting is worse than acting. Yes, but acting in what form and to what end? What is the exact purpose of the proposed ‘strike’?
What happens afterwards? Once more, Britain follows the US and, with big questions being posed, no clear answers are so far given.”
Source: The Guardian