MPs are scarred by the war in Iraq

The vote on Syria was dogged by memories of 2003

Share
Related Topics

Ten years ago, I watched in dismay as MPs voted for the Iraq war. Last week I watched in dismay as they voted against possible military intervention in Syria. On each occasion, the question uppermost in my mind was about this country's values. We believe in universal human rights; our laws, treaties and political leaders say so. In the recent past we have intervened to stop atrocities in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Libya. Iraq is a different story, but no one seriously doubts that horrors are being perpetrated in Syria: as MPs voted, footage was emerging of another dreadful attack by Bashar al-Assad's forces, a fighter jet dropping an incendiary bomb on a school in Aleppo.

Opponents of intervention ask why Assad would sanction the use of such terrible weapons when UN inspectors were in the country. This is to misunderstand the nature of the regime, which has repeatedly displayed its sense of immunity. Assad knows Russia and China will veto critical resolutions at the UN Security Council. He lived in the UK until 2000, his wife's family have lived in London for years, and he understands the toxic legacy of the Iraq war on public attitudes. Toxic and paralysing, to judge by last week's votes, when some MPs seem to have been influenced more by the events of 2003 than 2013.

Syria is not Iraq. The Iraq war was based on a disastrous fiction – the claim that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the world, whereas his regime was actually weaker than it had been for years. The human rights case for regime change was compelling, especially after Saddam used chemical weapons at Halabja, but it barely figured in 2003. There's a massive irony here: we went to war against a tyrant who turned out no longer to have weapons of mass destruction but won't consider limited air strikes against one who has used them in recent days. President Obama's Secretary of State, John Kerry, is sure that Assad's forces launched the chemical attacks on Damascus 11 days ago. For all its flaws, the Obama administration is not the same as the Bush White House.

A gap has opened up between this country's rhetoric and the way MPs voted in the Syria debate. I don't deny that such ventures are risky, but the consequences of refusing even to consider an intervention are worse: the coalition against Assad is fractured, Obama's position has been made more difficult and we have signalled our impotence in the face of the use of banned weapons.

Military intervention on humanitarian grounds was championed by Robin Cook before ghastly Blair took it up. It is an imperfect response to the mass slaughter of civilians, but consistent with our stated aim of upholding universal values. What happened in Parliament last week is just a mess. It's often said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Learning the wrong lesson is even worse.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower