29/08/2014 Newsnight


Investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines with Kirsty Wark. A special programme on the anniversary of Parliament's vote not to intervene in Syria.

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It was exactly a year ago that parliament voted not to intervene


militarily in Syria. Today David Cameron warned we will be fighting


against Islamic State for years, but how? And he upped the terror threat


to "severe". Tonight a special programme, what were the


consequences of that vote? Have Britain and the west lost their


appetite for foreign wars? And what has happened since? The spread of


the Syrian conflict into Iraq, the rise ofcy. Of IS and three million


Syrian refugees. It is clear to me that the British parliament,


reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British


military action, I get that. President Assad himself has now


confirmed on Russian television that he does have chemical weapons and is


prepared to give them up. The The war where you youngest are caught in


crossfire, they are targeted, even tortured. Militants, backed by a


anti-Government tribal fighters say they have taken control of Fallujah.


We are not putting boots on the ground, this is


We are not putting boots on the help them in their fight. After four


days of this, the Jihadis are now effectively in control of Mosul,


Iraq's second city. Many are from the minority Yazidi secretary,


forced from their homes a week ago and are now trapped on mountains


surrounded by the Jihadists. Syria's intensifying refugee crisis has


surpassed today a record three million refugees. The killer, who


speaks with a British accent, sends a direct message to President Obama


before killing James Foley. It poses an immediate threat to the people of


Iraq and the people throughout the region. We don't have a strategy


yet. Good evening, David Cameron wouldn't commit to any further


military involvement in the Middle East today, but he did describe the


Islamic state as a greater and deeper threat to our security than


we have ever known before. We are in the middle of a


generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology


that I believe we will be fighting for years and probably decades. We


will always take whatever action necessary to keep the British people


safe here at home. But a year ago the Prime Minister took a very


different approach after chemical takes by President Assad on his own


people. Parliament was recalled to approve military action in Syria


only to fail to get the backing of a majority of MPs. How did the


Government misjudge that vote? What has the impact been on our foreign


policy? Policy still made in the shadow of the Iraq War. Here is our


special correspondent, her report contains disturbing images.


How do we decide? Who we d'oh we -- do we stand up for? Tonight David


Cameron's plan for punishing President Assad using chemical


weapons failed. It is parliament, reflecting the views of the British


people does not want to see military act, I get that and the Government


will act accordingly. If we didn't strike then, what now?


With dangers more complex, more intense? David Cameron became the


first Prime Minister in many generations to lose a vote on


foreign policy. Ministers were astonished, the consensus was


smashed. But their position had been based on not one but a series of


miscalculations. The biggest, perhaps, a misunderstanding of the


recent past. MPs' minds were clogged with


memories of their vote for shock and awe, on evidence that was wrong. We


cannot ignore the lessons of the calamitous Iraq War. If we do not


take action, and it probably means military action, then the


credibility of the international community will be greatly damaged.


We all know, I have the scars about this, how easy it is to get into


military action and how difficult it is to get out of it. The legacy of


going to war in Iraq on a false premise cast a large shadow. And


some of us in parliament are in no mood for smoke and mirrors when it


comes to these things. There wasn't doubt about Assad's brutality, by


chance just as MPs voted these images of a chemical attack were


shown for the first time. But the question was how to punish the


crossing of the west's red line. The Government and Washington wanted to


side with the rebels. Some of these rebels included ISIS, some included


groups linked to Al-Qaeda. The idea of intervening on their behalf was


sheer and utter madness. Even on the morning of the vote, one minister at


the cabinet table suggested there would be no problem with the debate,


yet party managers and others were increasingly aware. They hadn't had


enough time to get the votes over the line. First time parliament, or


the party, assembled as a group was just before the debate started. The


whips were hampered from their usual operation, being able to move around


the lobbies, ringing colleagues, speaking to individuals personally.


And I think so again it goes back to the shortage of time to actually


marshall the party as a cohesive group. David Cameron had banked on


Ed Miliband's support though and given private concession, but to his


shock Labour decided instead on their own, more cautious motion.


This was a very significant political question Labour wanted to


try to demonstrate its unease. But it also wanted to show that if push


came to shove it was not going to baulk at making a difficult


decision. On paper Labour's position was not so different to the


Government's, but in practice, it killed off David Cameron's plan. By


the time he entered the Commons' chamber, before the result, a member


of his team had in their pocket a speech prepared to acknowledge


defeat. Nothing had been written in case of a win. And at at the most


senior levels of Government it was Ed Miliband's manoeuvres that sunk


the vote and they saw as treachery. The ayes to the right, 272, the nos


to the left 2le 5. Ed Miliband 's move did not force David Cameron to


be this explicit. We have to listen to parliament, parliament spoke, and


parliament, I think, made a very clear view, which it doesn't want


British involvement in military action. We will proceed on that


basis. Though he says the threat from the Middle East now is deeper,


stronger, it is harder to act. I think it probably did limit


Government power, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing,


we're living in a parliamentary democracy. Parliament has a right to


be heard. Parliament has raised the bar when it comes to intervention,


that is a good thing, given our past errors over the last decade. The


fact that Britain backed off and then America followed them just


illustrated to these militia groups that hang on the west is hesitating


here. Here is a real opportunity. We have seen them march straight into


it. This defeat did more than prevent the UK's action. Both sides


agree it gave parliament strength, but reduced the UK's power. A year


on with threats, more comMOX, more dang -- complex, more dangerous, any


leader must work harder for permission to intervene. Or take a


bigger and frankly unlikely gamble, act now and ask later. The ironic


inheritance of the vote, the sense. Reticence. When a year on threats to


Middle East safety grow. Joining me is Liam Fox, former


Defence Secretary, Lord Ashdown, once leader of the Liberal


Democrats, and Lord West, a Home Office Minister in the last Labour


Government and before that the First Sea Lord. At the time of that last


vote Lord Ashdown, you said you were ashamed of parliament. Do you still


think it was bad decision? Yes. Undoubtedly. For the very first time


in my memory Britain refused to stand up for international law. It


is not about intervening in Iraq, to provide weapons for the rebels in


Iraq, in my view that wouldn't have been a wise thing. Because you


wouldn't know into whose hands those weapons would have gone. And indeed


events have subsequently showed that. When Assad crossed a red line,


broke into international national law in existence since 1925, that


had restrained Hitler and Stalin, and the British parliament decided


to do nothing to stand up for international law, I think that was


a shameful moment. I think what happened subsequently, the Americans


sincerity to go ahead and take action, together with France but


without Britain, forced Assad to come to the table to negotiate


chemical weapons. They have now been removed. But elsewhere in the Middle


East, as we have seen very clearly, the failure to act has encouraged


others to believe that whatever the nature of the transgression we will


not act. That's landed us in the position we are in now. Yes, bad


move, an unwise move and for Britain a shameful one. There you are Lord


West, you argued against intervention, it was shameful and


has allowed the rise of IS? I don't agree. I'm delighted that almost 12


months ago, minus two day, we didn't start bombing Syria with no clear


aim of what the end game was, no clear aim of where we were going, we


could actually in terms of what "what ifs" have a whole Syria


controlled by ISIS if we did that. We don't know what would have


happened. I think it was right not to jump into bombing them without a


clear view of what our aim was. Far from being a shameful -- thing I


think it was right. What I didn't want was the thing in parliament it


was not a clear cut thing, I'm asking permission to bomb Syria in


two days time, should we do it or shouldn't we? No the answer we


shouldn't have. It became more fuzzy. Liam Fox you argued very


strongly for intervention, do you think as a country we are diminished


by the failure of that vote? I think that our influence has been


diminished and I think people will wonder what our word is worth I


think Paddy Ashdown is 100% correct. It wasn't about intervening in a war


in Syria, it was about a breach in international law about the use of


chemical weapons. What we were asking is for a limited response to


send a very clear signal that the use could not be tolerated again.


The fact that we didn't send that signal sent a message to those who


have chemical weapons in other place that is they could use them with


impunity. That is what Paddy Ashdown was saying was the shameful moment.


Was it that George Osborne underestimated the shadow of Iraq?


I'm not sure that was entirely true. I think there was an understanding


on the part. Of the Government that the Labour Party would give the


Government support until very late in the day. I think that was a


really dreadful mistake by Ed Miliband. Should there be military


intervention now? Would it be impossible without parliament's


better mission? There should be intervention to deal with ISIS? What


kind of intervention? If we believe it to be the threat we believe it to


be we have to deal with it in all its facets. We have to stop the sale


of oil on the black market where it derives money and the flow of money


from sympathetic groups in the region. We need to interrupt the


command and control and supply lines of ISIS, that will require air


strikes. British air strikes? Along with the United States if we are


asked to do so. It is important that the west provides air cover, close


air cover for any ground offensive, counter-attack by the Iraqis or the


Kurds. Paddy Ashdown, Liam Fox is saying clearly we should be


militarily involved in the air strike, do you think it is possible


to do this without parliament's say so, or now is every single military


intervention to be run past Westminster? If we're going to


engage British military forces and put them in harm's way it is proper


that parliament should be consulted. I profoundly disagree with Fox, by


the way. I think we have to get away from this idea which says that in


response to everything in the Middle East our answer is bombs and


rockets. I mean there is a use for limited forms of air support to


protect for instance the Kurdish state. There is also a use for such


military action as would be consistent with an integrated


policy. My view of what is happening in the Middle East now is a very


powerful, terrible, but probably reasonably temporary convulsion, but


it will change the borders of the Middle East. What we need is an


integrated policy in which diplomacy, First Minister with


Turkey, Iran, for instance to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop


supporting the Jihadis is probably as important, if not more important


than the military action, but it is the co-ordination of those which


will have the effect. Tell me Liam Fox, there will be a NATO meeting,


what will we do, will we tell NATO we will not take any action? I think


of the United States in particular it says we would like Britain to


share the burden of limited air involvement to be able to reduce the


military capability of ISIS and give the forces on the ground a chance to


work. If we were to go to NATO summit and say we are not going to


be supporting the Americans, but we are demanding that the rest of NATO


pulls its weight more, that would be a very odd position for Britain to


have. Lord West in your view should there be a clearly defined limited


strike, after the NATO meeting next week, Liam Fox seems to be


suggesting if we are asked we should go ahead with military strikes, is


it possible to have a limited, clearly defined strategy in the


Middle East? We need a very clear strategy and clear end game of where


we want to go, and we have to employ everything at our disposal in terms


of diplomatic, in terms of leaning on those within the region, for


example, stopping money flows from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, more


pressure on our prevent mechanism here in terms of radicalisation and


people going. This needs to be much better co-ordinated. There is danger


about thinking it is nice and easy, let's fire a few missiles and drop a


few bombs on people, that will solve the problem, it doesn't solve the


problem. But sometimes, sometimes you do have to use force. I have


been involved in using force in this country, but it has to be clearly


thought through and you mustn't do it in a sort of haphazard way. I do


think that attack on Syria a year ago would have been haphazard, you


can't rap on the knuckles here. It does have to be proportionate and I


do think it has to be limited, it has to be part of a wider strategy.


It has to be financial, political, but if we do require a military


element to complete that strategy we should not be unwilling to do it.


But in wider terms what is the shape of our possible future interventions


in the Middle East and beyond look like, is it changed now? It depends


on the situation that arises in the future. I do think we have to have


an integrated strategy that takes foreign policy, economic policy


fully into account. Is there an appetite for it do you think? The


question is do Governments wait until the threat is so great that


the public are demanding action, or does the Government act when the


Government believes that the threat is such a severity that it warrants


action. Does that look to you like intervention and the way it should


be conducted? There is all sorts of intervention. When you act to


support a country with aid that is intervention, why do we always put


intervention only in military terms. We need an integrated strategy. Let


me make a slightly different point if I may for you, since we are now


facing in the day when we raised the threat level, the Government is


concentrating, and I think they are unwise to do so on the threat of


Jihadis coming home. By the way when they have raised the threat level


they have raised it to what has existed in Northern Ireland for the


last two years and what we sustained for five years in the case of the


IRA terrorist. Of course this is a threat. But it is a threat that we


know how to deal with it and it needs to be put into proportion. I


fear it is getting out of proportion. By far the greater


threat to Britain is the threat of a widening religious war which


threatens to engulf the entire Middle East. Now that's the bigger


threat. I wish I had heard the Government talking about tackling


that. If you want to link Ukraine with what's happening in the Middle


East, this is the system that will do it, because Russia supports


Assad. You are talking here about something much, much bigger, much,


much more dangerous than returning Jihadi, you are talking about a


regional war, in the Middle East, which is religious in nature, which


could engulf the Middle East which could change the borders and which


could easily f we allow it to get of control engage the great powers as


well. That is why complinecy has as much a part to play as does military


force. Thank you very much indeed, what are the guiding principles of


our policy on intervention in foreign conflict if there are any.


It is 15 years since Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. Was last


year's vote not to intervene in Syria a turning point in the UK and


west's approach to the rest of the world. Here is our diplomatic


editor. Historians and think-tankers have


Long been obsessed with the UK's global status. 50 years ago it was


an American politician who said that Britain had lost an empire but not


found a role. Actually Britain has had a pretty well defined role over


the past half century, which is acting as America's number two or


deputy in upholding international security. In the past year though


even that's become highly uncertain as the British Government has


stepped back from foreign wars. I for one was quite surprised at how


much the rest of the world was taking notice of what happened in


parliament that day. Because in the gulf and even in eastation and Japan


people were saying to me is Britain serious about defence, is there a


big rift between Britain and the United States. Are you guys


withdrawing from your space in world affairs? And what seemed at the time


to be a domestic blip, admittedly a serious blip, but a blip in our


political process, was perceived by the rest of the world as a tipping


point in Britain's decline as a world power. Just a few weeks back a


senior Special Forces officer I met told me that the SAS were not


operating in Iraq because of the parliamentary vote. If they got into


combat it might be deemed illegal. So what would they be doing once the


commitment in Afghanistan had wound down? Well more training missions he


suggested and Britain would rely more on the soft power of the


International Development Department. The forces, intelligence


agencies and Foreign Office have all geared themselves to the


Government's view that absent a 9/11 scale event Britain has lost its


will to confront enemies overseas. It would be realistic of me to say


that I would not accept in the most extreme circumstances, I would not


expect to see a manifestation of great appetite for plunging into


another prolonged period of ex-president decisionry engagment


into -- expeditionary-type engagment any time soon. So the Government has


been drawing down in Afghanistan and shunning any commitment to follow on


training for the Afghan forces. We have seen a reduction in British


commitment, evidenced by the British extreme reluctance to get involved


with the commitment to a training, advising assisting mission in


Afghanistan, when the mission concludes at the end of this year.


What we have seen is countries like Germany and Italy stepping forward


to fill the gap in supporting the Americans which Britain


traditionally did. One year ago the result of the British vote


reverberated across the Atlantic, feeding US Congress which then


declined to support US strikes on Syria. Britain had gone from being


the dependable partner to a more questionable ally. I think the vote


in parliament did have an impact on the President. Because within a


couple of days of that vote he decided to go seek a vote in


Congress, which he had not planned to do here, and of course that then


faded away. I don't think, I think it was little more than a ripple in


our long-term relationship with Britain, I think when the President


gets his strategy together he will hope, as I will, that the British


will be by our side again as they have been so often. So can there be


some sort of new concept about when it is right to intervene, well Tony


Blair may have gone in with the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan,


but he did also take unilateral military action in Sierra Leone, and


he favoured the concept of what's called humanitarian intervention, he


believed in the concept of the responsibility to protect, in cases


where "ethnic cleansing" Oregan side were imminent.


Is the Prime Minister who marched his troughs down the hill now at the


mercy of events marching them back up again. The RAF is flying over


Iraq once more. It is dropping aid not bombs, for the moment any way.


Government insists it has not not bombs, for the moment any way.


asked yesterday to join American air strikes. The signs are that this


Government doesn't want to take major military action in this crisis


no matter whether that is independently or as President


Obama's junior partner. Britain still wants a role in the world, it


just seems less sure than ever about how to carve it.


To discuss this I'm joined by the former Chief of General Staff, the


author of the End of History and a Professor from the London School of


Economics. Are we living in a world in which Britain is unwilling or


unable to exercise our military power? No, I don't think we are.


Your conversation earlier this evening on this programme quite


rightly has focussed on the debate in parliament a year ago. And I was


one of those who spoke against intervention on bombing at that


stage, as Lord West, who you talked to earlier also did. Because the


issue then was an unclear issue which would potentially have had us


bombing in a complex Civil War and the consequences of what we had done


were most unclear. We were right to vote against that and it caused a


check on American ambitions. It also actually led the Russians to get


involved and it then led to the removal of most of the Syrian


chemical weapons. Now the situation today is very different. The


situation is different today, but I was going to ask you, in what


scenario can you see us intervening, if there was another Sierra Leone,


if there was another something, when in the Middle East can you see us


intervening, you heard what Liam Fox said? I'm not going to start


presupposing different scenarios. Let's take the situation we have


today. The issue we have in front of us today is very clear. Islamic


State is a very clear and present danger. The Prime Minister has


spoken about that in absolute terms. What should we be doing now? The


Americans are bombing in support of the Peshmerga fighters northern


Iraq. There is the issue of the Free Syrian Army in Syria. And the


request, if it hasn't come will come quite soon whether whether the UK


will not only take surveillance pictures from its aircrafts but drop


explosive ordinance as well. I believe this is a very different


issue from a year ago and we should be taking action, not just from the


air but also playing our part in arming and training the Peshmerga


fighters particularly in northern Iraq so that they can stand against


this very person national curriculums -- pernicious regime


trying to put itself in power, the Islamic State. Do you agree with the


analysis? First of all I think there is such a thing as humanitarian


intervention but it needs to be focussed on the suffering of the


people. It needs, you know, people are going through terrible things in


Syria and Iraq. Any kind of intervention has to be focussed on


that, we tend to have in our minds that intervention only means war


fighting, it only means defeating people. But as a country, you know,


do we have, we are a huge military power, are we posturing as a


military power, generally? I think both ourselves and the United States


have lost a huge degree of moral credibility as a result of both the


interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not just that we


have lost our appetite, we haven't come to terms with our culpability


for what is happening. And the fact that we do have a much more limited


role because we have lost our credibility. Until we can start


coming to terms with what we were responsible for, what we did wrong,


we can't start to think what's right. You know, once upon time


America was the world's policeman and we no longer appear to be the


Lieutenants willing to do anything. Do you agree with that analysis that


until we understand the problems Iraq gave us we can't move on to a


different kind of world peace? I think what Iraq and Afghanistan have


demonstrated is that we don't have the knowledge and the ability to


create very specific political outcomes like building democracy in


either of those countries. But we still have a lot of power and we


still have a lot of national interest. I actually think that the


situation in both Iraq and Syria has deteriorated to the point that we


have to be pretty hard headed right now about protecting some core


interests. I think actually you can define a strategy fairly simply,


that we, that is to say the United States, Britain and other western


powers ought to at this point act as off-shore balancer, our objective


should be to prevent any of these bad actors like ISIS or the Assad


Government in Syria from dominating the region. That we can do. We


cannot turn Syria into a democracy, but we can at least prevent the bad


use of power by some extremely nasty groups there. But it is not just


about air strikes in that case is it, is it about putting boots on the


ground. There is no appetite for that kind of intervention? You know


the one thing about ISIS right now that is that they are very much


overextended. You usually cannot achieve certain political objectives


just with air power, but this is a case where you can really, you can


take apart a lot of their infrastructure in Syria and do it


without any need for ground forces. So I think this is one case where


actually a little bit of limited military power it can actually do a


lot of good. If you move your gaze to somewhere else in the world and


you look at what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine, and


Ukraine tonight calling for full membership of NATO to come under


that umbrella, is that a conflict where actually the danger to us is


quite severe and actually that Putin's ambition threatens us all? I


actually think that Ukraine is a much more serious threat, not just


to us but to a lot of countries that are quite important to us, and


anything that is going on in this spreading, Sunni-Shia war in the


Middle East. And Putin has set a new precedent that's very, very similar


to what Hitler did in the 1930s about supporting Russians outside of


Russia that will be extremely destablising in Europe. I think NATO


needs to get serious as a military alliance, it hasn't been for the


last 20 years, but the time has come for it. I think it is very difficult


to defeat the Islamic State just through war fighting. I just don't


think that is possible nowadays. I think absolutely key you know, it


may not be possible to create a democracy, but the absolute key is


an inclusive political arrangement, so politic is key to dealing with


these things. But when you look more at what is happening in Europe, when


you look at what is happening with Putin and you look what that threat


looks like, does NATO have to step up the challenge again, do we have


to stand nose-to-nose and show our power? I think that is terribly


dangerous to do that, but at the same time, again we are talking


always in geopolitical terms, where as if you look at what's happening


in eastern Ukraine, what was a democracy movement is being turned


into an ethnic conflict. There is displacement, there is human rights


violations and we need to shift the discourse from geopolitics to


humanitarian issues. Thank you all very much, that is all we have time


for, from this Newsnight special, good night.


A special programme on the anniversary of Parliament's vote not to intervene in Syria - have we lost our appetite for foreign wars? With Kirsty Wark.

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