Has any political figure bathed himself in the waters of statesman-like gravitas as luxuriously in recent days as Malcolm Rifkind? I think not. The ex-Foreign Secretary’s ungodly talent for combining a rigid refusal to strike childish rhetorical poses with stoutly defending his principles warms the heart. Big Mal’s demand that Ed Miliband tell Argentina that Britain’s disinclination to bomb Damascus for no apparent tactical or strategic advantage is not an open invitation to retake the Falklands is inspired. The two situations are uncannily similar, after all, while an opposition leader’s paramount responsibility is indeed to issue macho warnings to foreign powers. Even more impressive is his consistency over how to handle brutal civil wars. The sincerity with which he spoke in Thursday’s debate about protecting Syria’s people from a tyrant sends the mind back to the conflict in former Yugoslavia. In 1993, distressed by pictures of a massacre, Margaret Thatcher begged the Major government to help Bosnian Muslims being slaughtered by the Serbs by lifting an arms embargo. The Defence Secretary of the moment, a certain Malcolm Rifkind, dismissed this as “emotional nonsense”, and explained that arming the Bosnians would “prolong the conflict and make it even bloodier and more vicious than it is today, bringing continuing suffering to innocent civilians”. On Wednesday, meanwhile, he pre-empted the debate with an Evening Standard piece headlined “The Syrian regime cannot use chemical weapons without being punished”.
Hammond shows how it’s done
Among others to distinguish themselves is the current Defence Secretary. Philip Hammond emerged from the Commons defeat to reassure the US of the Government’s competence. His reference in a TV interview to Assad as “Saddam” apparently did wonders to assuage concerns in Washington about British amateurishness.
Paddy reminds us of his half-century
As for Paddy Ashdown, below, his modesty in arguing for a bombing campaign as one who has “for 50 years served my country” does him credit. It’s true that a similar claim might be made for Generals Lord Dannatt and Sir Mike Jackson, both ex-Army chiefs and opponents of bombing Syria. But who gives a stuff what know-nothings like them say?
Bring on the tub-thumping
Sharing Paddy’s faith that an issue of this complexity demands a suitably nuanced response is “top historian” Andrew Roberts. Writing in The Mail on Sunday, this Edmund Hillary of social climbers blames the Government’s defeat on the “hideous amoral selfishness” of “the new Britain”, drawing a compelling link between public doubt about the benefits of bombing Damascus and the dearth of jingoistic tub-thumping in Danny Boyle’s Olympic Opening Ceremony. If this laureate of Boy’s Own empire worship is particularly outraged by our betrayal of the United States, no wonder when his mindset was firmly shaped by reverence for the US military. Andrew is the heir to a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise fortune, and it is believed that the late Colonel Sanders was his godfather and mentor.
Strange: Anniesland has gone to ground
If any contribution rivals the above for intellectual virtuosity, it was expressed on Twitter by @annieslandsnp. “Saddened to see that *PREGNANT* Lib Dem Bearsden MP @joswinson voted FOR the attack on Syria & its children #noshame”, tweeted someone using that account. The tweet was swiftly deleted, and replaced by another making it plain that no possible offence was intended. But attempts to unearth the culprit failed yesterday when access to the user’s full profile seemed mysteriously to have been disabled. No doubt Bill Kidd, the Scots Nats MSP for Anniesland, will be swift to identify who in his office made this elegant slur, and take appropriate action.
Ali’s talent for distraction
Finally, as ever with intelligence-related military action, we look for guidance to the architects of Iraq. Mr Tony Blair set out his unwontedly gung-ho case last week in The Guardian. But what of Alastair Campbell? Ali has been focused on other things: “I really hope Burnley’s award as ‘The Most Enterprising Area in the UK’ gets a bit of national attention,” reads his last blog entry, though it seems some trivial story from the Middle East kept the happy news off the front pages.