Syria Vote: One Year On Newsnight


Syria Vote: One Year On

Kirsty Wark presents a special Newsnight report on the anniversary of the Commons vote against British military action in Syria.


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presents a special Newsnight report on the anniversary of the Commons

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vote against British military action in Syria. It was a year ago that

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Parliament voted not to intervene militarily in Syria. David Cameron

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has warned we will be fighting against Islamic State for years. But

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how? He has increased the terror threat to the UK to severe. What

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were the consequences of that vote? Have Britain and the US lost their

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appetite for foreign war? And what has happened since? The movement of

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Islamic State into Iraq and the creation of 3 million refugees. It

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is clear that the British Parliament does not want to see military

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action. I get that. They are Assad loyalists. President Assad himself

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has now confirmed on Russian television that he does have

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chemical weapons and is prepared to give them out. In a war where the

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youngest are not just caught in the crossfire, they are targeted and

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even tortured. Militants backed by anti`government tribal fighters

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claimed to have taken full control of the western Iraqi city of

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Fallujah. We are not going to put boots on the ground. This is their

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fight. But we will help them in their fight. After four days of

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this, the jihadis are effectively in control of Mosul, Iraq's second

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city. Many are from the Yazidi sect, forced from their homes and now

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trapped on mountains by the jihadists. Syria's intensifying

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refugee crisis has surpassed today a record 3 million refugees. The

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killer, who speaks with a British accent, send a direct message to US

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President Obama before killing James Foley. ISIS poses a direct threat to

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the region. David Cameron would not commit to any further military

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involvement in the Middle East but he did so `` described the Islamic

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State as a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have ever

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known before. We are in the middle of a generational struggle with an

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extremist entity that we will be fighting for years if not decades.

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We will always take whatever action is necessary to keep the British

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people safe at home. One year ago, the Prime Minister took a different

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approach after chemical attacks by President Assad on his own people.

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Parliament was recalled to approve military action in Syria only to

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

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government misjudged the impact of that vote? And what have in fact

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been of that decision `` what are the impacts of that decision? This

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report contains disturbing images. How do we decide? Who do we stand up

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for? One year ago tonight, David Cameron's plan to punish Assad for

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using chemical weapons failed. It is clear to me that the British

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

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see British military action. I get out and the government will act

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accordingly. If we did not strike them, what now? With danger is more

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complex and more intense. David Cameron became the first prime

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minister in many generations to lose a vote on foreign policy. Ministers

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were astonished. Consensus was smashed. But their position had been

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based on not one but a series of miscalculations, the biggest

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perhaps, a misunderstanding of the recent past.

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MPs minds were clogged with memories of their vote for Operation Shock

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and Awe on evidence that was wrong. We cannot ignore the lessons of the

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calamitous Iraq. If we do not take action, and it probably means

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military action, then the credibility of the international

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community will be greatly damaged. We all know how easy it is to get

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

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legacy of going to war in Iraq on a false premise cast a long shadow.

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Some of us in Parliament are in no mood or smoke and mirrors when it

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comes to these things. There was not doubt about Assad's brutality. By

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chance, just as MPs voted, these images of an attack with chemical

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weapons were shown for the first time. But the question was how to

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punish the crossing of the West's Red Line? The government and

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Washington want to side with the rebels. Some of these rebels

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included ISIS. Some of them included groups linked to Al`Qaeda. The idea

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of intervening on their behalf was utter madness. Even on the morning

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of the vote, one minister at the Cabinet table suggested they would

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be no problem with the debate. But party managers and others were

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increasingly aware. I had not had enough time to get the votes. The

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first time Parliament or the party assembled as a group was just before

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the debate started, so the party whips were actually hampered from

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the usual operations of moving around the lobbies, bringing

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colleagues and speaking to individuals personally, and so

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again, it comes back to this shortage of time to actually marshal

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the party as a cohesive group. David Cameron had banked on Ed Miliband's

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support, however, and given private concessions. But Julia Schoch,

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Labour decided instead on their own, more cautious motion. This was an

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important and significant moment. Labour wanted to demonstrate its

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knees and it also wanted to show that if push came to shove, it was

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not going to bowl at making a difficult decision `` demonstrate

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its unease. On paper, Labour's position was not so different to

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that of the government's. But in practice, it killed off David

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Cameron's plan. By the time he entered the Commons, a member of his

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team had in his pocket a speech to acknowledge defeat. Nothing had been

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written in the case of a victory. It was Ed Miliband's manoeuvres that

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something vote. The government saw it as treachery. The eyes to

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rewrite... The nose to the left. Ed Miliband's move did not force David

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Cameron to be this explicit. We have to listen to Parliament. Parliament

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spoke. Parliament, I think, made a very clear view, which is that it

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does not want British military action, so we will proceed on that

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basis. He says the threat from the Middle East now is deeper, stronger,

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it is harder to act. It did limit the government's power but that is

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not necessarily a bad thing. This is a parliamentary democracy. That is a

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

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the UK backed off and the US then followed them just illustrated to

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these militia groups that, hang on, the West is hesitating here, here is

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a real opportunity. And they got into it. This defeat did more than

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prevent the UK's action. Both sides agree that it gave Parliament

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strength but reduced the UK's power. One year on, with threats

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more complex and more dangerous, any leader must work harder for

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permission to intervene or take a bigger and frankly unlikely gamble:

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Act now and ask later. The ironic inheritance of the vote was

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reticence. When one year on, risks to our safety and the Middle East's

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safety only grows. Thank you for joining us. Lord Ashdown, first of

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all, at the time of that last vote, you said that you are ashamed of

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Parliament. Do you still think it was a bad decision? Yes,

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undoubtedly. For the very first time in my memory, Britain refused to

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stand up for international rules. It was not about intervening in Iraq.

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To have provided weapons for the rebels in Iraq would not have been a

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wise ring because you would not have known into whose hands those weapons

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would have gone, and subsequent events have shown that. But when

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Assad crossed a Red Line, broke international law that had been in

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existence since 1925, that had restrained Hitler and had restrained

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Stalin, and the British Parliament decided to do nothing to stand up

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for international law, I think that was a shameful moment. I think what

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has happened subsequently, the American taking action together with

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France away from Britain forced Assad to come to the table and

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negotiate on the issue of chemical weapons. But elsewhere in the Middle

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East, the failure to act has convinced people that no matter what

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the nature of the transgression, we will not act. Yes, it was a bad

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move, and on wise move, and for the UK, a shameful one. There you are,

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Lord West. This shameful vote has allowed the rise of Islamic State.

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I'm delighted that 12 months ago we did not start bombing Syria with no

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clear aim of what the endgame was, no clear aim of where we were going.

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In terms of what ifs we could have an entire Syria controlled by ISIS

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if we had been doing that. We do not know how it would have gone. I think

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it was absolutely right that we did not charge into bombing them without

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any clear view of what our aim is. And far from being shameful, I think

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it was absolutely right. What I did not like was the final motion that

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was to dust in Parliament. It was watered down so much. Instead of a

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yes or no, it became much more fuzzy. Liam Fox, you argued very

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strongly for intervening. Do you think, as a country, we are

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diminished? I think that our influence has been diminished and I

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think people will wonder what our word is worth. I think Lord Ashdown

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is 100% correct. It was not about intervening in the civil war in

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Syria, it was about a response to a breach of international law, a clear

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and singular breach with regards the use of chemical weapons. What we

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were asking for was a limited response that would send a clear

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signal that the use could not be tolerated again. The fact that we

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did not send that signal sent a message to people who had Commons in

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the region that they could use them with impunity. That is the shameful

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moment. `` the people who had chemical weapons in the region. What

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about intervening with Iraq? I don't think that is entirely true because

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I think there was an understanding within the government that the

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Labour Party would give support until the end of the day. I think

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that was a dreadful mistake by Ed Miliband. Should there be in

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military intervention now and would it be impossible without

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parliamentary approval? I think that there should be intervention to deal

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with ISIS. What kind of action? Is ISIS is the threat we believe it to

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be, we have to stop it. We have to stop the sale of oil on the black

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market from which it derives its money. We need to disrupt the

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

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strikes. British airstrikes? As well as those from the US. It is also

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important that the West provides close air cover for any ground

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offensive counter`attack by the Iraqis or the Kurds. Paddy Ashdown,

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Liam Fox says very clearly that if asked, we should be militarily

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involved in airstrikes. Do you think it is possible to do this without

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Parliament's say`so? One will every single possibility of military

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intervention be run past Westminster? If we are going to

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

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that Parliament be consulted. I profoundly disagree with Liam Fox,

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by the way. We have to get away from this idea which says that in

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

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rockets. There is a useful limited forms of air support to protect, for

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

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action as would be consistent with an integrated policy. In my view,

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what is happening in the Middle East now is a very powerful, terrible but

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probably reasonably temporary convulsion but it will change the

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borders of the Middle East and what we need is an integrated policy of

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diplomacy with Turkey, for example, with Iran, to put pressure on Saudi

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Arabia to stop supporting the jihadis. And that is probably as

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important if not more so than military action. But it is the

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co`ordination of those ritual have the effect.

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Is the United States say they would like Britain to share the burden of

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limited involvement to reduce the military capability of ISIS and give

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forces a chance to walk. That network. If we went to a Nato summit

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and did not support the Americans but the manned that the rest of Nato

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pulls its weight, it would be bought for Britain to have that position.

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Should there be a clearly defined, limited strike after the Nato

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meeting, if we are asked, we should go ahead with strikes. Is it

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possible to have a limited, clearly defined mission in the Middle East?

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We need a clear strategy and endgame of where we want to go and we have

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to employ what we have at our disposal in terms of diplomatic,

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leaning on those within the region, stopping money flows from Qatar and

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Saudi Arabia, more pressure on prevent mechanisms in terms of

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radicalisation. This needs to be better co`ordinated. There is a

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change about thinking it is easy, let's fire some missiles and drop

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bombs, it will solve the problem. It doesn't solve the problem.

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Sometimes, you do have to use force. I have been involved in using force.

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It has got to be clearly thought out and you mustn't do it in a haphazard

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way. I think the attack on Syria one year ago would have been haphazard.

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You can't wrap on the knuckles. It does have to be proportionate. It

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has to be limited. It has to be part of a wider strategy. It has to be

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diplomatic, financial, political, but if we require a military element

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to complete the strategy, we should not be an unwilling to do it. Thank

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you all very much indeed. So, what are the guiding principles of the

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policy on intervention in foreign conflicts if there are any? 15 years

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since Cossiga, then Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, then Iraq. `` Kosovo.

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Was last year a turning point in the rest of the world was that here is

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our editor, Mark Urban. `` rest of the world?

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Historians and think tanks have been obsessed at the UK's global status.

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50 years ago, an American politician said Britain had found an empire but

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not found a role. Actually, Britain has had a well`defined role over the

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past half`century. That is acting as America's deputy in upholding

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international security. In the past, the past year, that has become

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highly uncertain as the British government has stepped back from

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foreign wars. I was quite surprised at how much the rest of the world

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took notice of what happened in Parliament that day because in the

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Gulf and even in east Asia and Japan, it was said, is Britain's

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serious about defence? Are you guys withdrawing from your space in world

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affairs. What seemed at the time to be a domestic blip, a serious one,

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in our political process, was perceived by the rest of the world

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as a tipping point in Britain's decline as a world power. A few

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weeks back, a senior special forces officer I met told me that the SAS

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weren't operating in Iraq because of the parliamentary vote. If they had

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got into combat, it might be deemed illegal. What would they be doing

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once the commitment in Afghanistan had wound down? More training

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missions, he suggested and Britain would rely more on the soft power of

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the international development department. The forces, intelligence

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agencies and Foreign Office have geared themselves to the

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

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

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that I would not expect, except in extreme circumstances, I would not

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expect to see a manifestation of great appetite for plunging into

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another long period of engagement anytime soon. So, the government has

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rushed for the door in Afghanistan, drawing down as quickly as possible

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in my shunning significant commitment to follow on training for

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the Afghan forces. We have seen a reduction in British commitment,

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evidenced by the British extreme reluctance to get involved with the

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commitment to a training, advising and assisting mission in Afghanistan

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when the ISAF mission concludes at the end of this year. What we have

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seen is countries like Germany and Italy stepping forward to fill the

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gap in supporting the Americans which Britain traditionally did. One

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year ago, the result of that British vote reverberated across the

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Atlantic, feeding doubt into the US Congress, which then declined to

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support US strikes on Syria. Britain had gone from being the dependable

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partner to a more questionable ally. I think the vote in Parliament

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impact of the President because within a couple of days he decided

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to seek a vote in Congress which he hadn't planned to do here. That

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faded away. It was little more than a ripple in the long`term

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relationship with written and I think when the president gets is

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strategy together he will hope as I will be British will be by our site

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again as they have been so often `` Britain. Can there be a new concept

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about when it is right to intervene? Tony Blair might have

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gone in with the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan but he did also take

:20:30.:20:34.

unilateral military action in Sierra Leone and he favoured the concept of

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what is called humanitarian intervention. It is believed to be

:20:38.:20:43.

the concept of responsibility to protect in cases where ethnic

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lensing or genocide were imminent. `` ethnic cleansing.

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Is the Prime Minister, who has marched his troops down the

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interventionist deal, now at the mercy of events marking them back up

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again? `` Hill. The RAF is flying over Iraq once more but is dropping

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aid, not bombs, for the moment anyway. The government insists it

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has not been asked yet to join American air strikes. The signs are

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that this government doesn't want to take major military action in this

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crisis no matter whether that is independently or as resident over

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my's junior partner. `` President Obama's. Britainwant a role in the

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world it is just uncertain about how it wants to carve it.

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Mark Urban to discuss this. I am joined by the former chief of

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general staff, prevents, Professor for the armour and professor at the

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London School of economics. Are we living in a world in which

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Britain is unwilling or unable to exercise our military power? No, I

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don't think we are. Your conversation earlier this evening in

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the programme quite rightly focused on the debate in Parliament one year

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ago. I was one of those who spoke against intervention and bombing at

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that stage as Lord West also did. The issue then was an unclear issue

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which could potentially have asked bombing in a complex civil war and

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the consequences of what we had done weren't clear. We were right to vote

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against that. It caused a check on American ambitions and lead the

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Russians to get involved `` led. It led to the removal of most Syria and

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legal weapons. Once upon a time, America was the World Cup is a

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policeman. No longer. We aren't the lieutenant willing to do anything.

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`` world's policeman. Until we understand the problems that Iraq at

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us, we can't move onto a different kind of world peace? I think what

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Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated is that you don't have the knowledge or

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ability to create specific political outcomes like looking democracy in

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either of those countries. We still have a lot of power and a lot of

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national interest. I think that the situation in Iraq and Syria have

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deteriorated to the point that we have to be hardheaded right now

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about protecting some core interest. I think that you can

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define a strategy fairly simply, that we, the United States, Britain

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and other Western powers up until this point act as offshore

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balances. Our objective should be to prevent any of these bad actors like

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ISIS will like the Assad government in Syria from dominating the region

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`` or. If you move your gaze to the Russia and Ukraine crisis and

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Ukraine to not calling for membership of Nato to come under

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that Umbro, `` tonight `` Dumbrell, is that the conflict, where the

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danger is that Putin's ambition threatens us all? `` umbrella. I

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think that Ukraine is a more serious threat, not only to us but to other

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countries that are important to us. Anything going on in the spreading

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Sunni `Shia war. Putin is supporting Russians outside Russia, it will be

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destabilising in Europe. Nato needs to get serious on the military

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alliance. It hasn't for 20 years. I think it is difficult. It is

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

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think that's possible. I think it is key... It might not be possible to

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create democracy but it is key to have an inclusive political

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arrangement. Politics is key to dealing with these things. When you

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look at what is happening in Europe, with Putin and what the

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threat looks like, does Nato have to step up to the challenge again

:25:33.:25:36.

western market do we have to stand nose to nose and show our power? I

:25:37.:25:40.

think it is terribly dangerous to do that but at the same time again we

:25:41.:25:45.

are talking in geopolitical terms whereas if you look at what is

:25:46.:25:49.

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

:25:50.:25:55.

turned into an ethnic conflict with displacement and human rights

:25:56.:26:01.

violations. We need to shift the discourse from geopolitics to

:26:02.:26:04.

humanitarian issues. Thank you all very much indeed. I am afraid that

:26:05.:26:10.

is all we have time for from this Newsnight special.

:26:11.:26:18.

Hello. We lose the influence of low pressure to be replaced with high

:26:19.:26:25.

pressure as we head into the

:26:26.:26:26.

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