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


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


Parliament voted not to intervene militarily in Syria. David Cameron


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


has now confirmed on Russian television that he does have


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


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


even tortured. Militants backed by anti`government tribal fighters


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


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


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


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


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


trapped on mountains by the jihadists. Syria's intensifying


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


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


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


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


involvement in the Middle East but he did so `` described 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 with an


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


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


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


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


Parliament was recalled to approve military action in Syria only to


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


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


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


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


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


using chemical weapons failed. 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 out and the government will act


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


complex and more intense. David Cameron became the first prime


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


were astonished. 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 Operation Shock


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


calamitous Iraq. 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 how easy it is to get


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the usual operations of moving around the lobbies, bringing


colleagues and speaking to individuals personally, and so


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


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


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


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


important and significant moment. Labour wanted to demonstrate its


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


more complex and 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 was


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


existence since 1925, that had restrained Hitler and had restrained


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


has happened subsequently, the American taking action together with


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


I think there was an understanding within the government that the


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


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


military intervention now and would it be impossible without


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


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


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


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


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


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


important that the West provides close air cover for any ground


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


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


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


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


intervention be run past Westminster? If we are going to


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


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


by the way. 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. There is a useful 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. In my view,


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 and what we need is an integrated policy of


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


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


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


co`ordination of those ritual have the effect.


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


limited involvement to reduce the military capability of ISIS and give


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Saudi Arabia, more pressure on prevent mechanisms in terms of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


highly uncertain as the British government has stepped back from


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


once the commitment in Afghanistan had wound down? 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 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 expect, except in extreme circumstances, I would not


expect to see a manifestation of great appetite for plunging into


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


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


in my shunning significant 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 and assisting mission in Afghanistan


when the ISAF 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 that British vote reverberated across the


Atlantic, feeding doubt into the 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


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


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


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


relationship with written and I think when the president gets is


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


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


about when it is right to intervene? Tony Blair might 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 is called humanitarian intervention. It is believed to be


the concept of responsibility to protect in cases where ethnic


lensing or genocide were imminent. `` ethnic cleansing.


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


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


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


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


has not been asked yet 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 resident over


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


ability to create specific political outcomes like looking democracy in


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


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


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


about protecting some core interest. I think that you can


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


and other Western powers up until this point act as offshore


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


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


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


Ukraine to not calling for membership of Nato to come under


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


create democracy but it is key to have an inclusive political


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


turned into an ethnic conflict with displacement and human rights


violations. We need to shift the discourse from geopolitics to


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


is all we have time for from this Newsnight special.


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


pressure as we head into the


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