David Cameron is trying to have it both ways
The Commons Syria vote came after the culmination more of theatre than debate; a series of set pieces in which key questions went unanswered. Much of the public and Greens across the land agreed with Caroline Lucas that the case for war had not been made; has still not.
The following question, posed by Cameron, was made a necessary condition for going to war and is critical to any responsible assessment: “Could acting in this way actually increase the risk to our security by making an attack on Britain more likely?”
His answer: “If there is an attack on the UK in the coming weeks or months, there will be those who try to say it has happened because of our airstrikes. I do not believe that would be the case…. They attack us because of who we are, not because of what we do.”
The contention is: if it does happen, it would have happened anyway. Cameron is washing his hands of any causal responsibility, any linkage, between event A (our bombing in Syria) and event B (terrorist incident in UK).
Trying to have it both ways, Cameron would seek credit for any reduction in terrorist threat level (a stated aim) but absolve himself of any responsibility if things go pear-shaped. Is there a relationship between A and B or not? The answer cannot depend upon the undesireability of outcome, like seeking to absolve oneself of responsibility for collateral damage which one did not intend but did reliably bring about.
This smacks of an exercise in Cameron attempting to insulate himself from a future worry – that he will be partly blamed for a terrorist strike in the UK, which would not have happened were it not for his action. But we cannot know this, it’s a known unknown. To suppose, however, that there can’t be a linkage, as sure as Cameron takes himself to be retaliating now, is wishful thinking; or worse, an exercise in self-deception.
In some respects Cameron is like Blair. Both had made their minds up about war before seeking parliamentary approval. I fear the surety in Cameron’s face is a sign he has not understood the gravity of what he is doing; just as it may have dawned on Blair only later, in George Galloway’s words, “You can see the guilt written on his face!”
Humility rather comes from a recognition of our fallibility, that in trying to reduce harm risk of greater harm may result.
Politics is difficult enough when motives are honorable; as faulty reasoning, and other failures in competency, can be just as damaging as ill motivation. Would that our leaders addressed questions as to consequences more fully before engaging in shots in the dark.
The answer to Cameron’s question, alas, is surely yes, acting in this way could increase the risk to our security.
Shahrar Ali is the deputy leader of the Green PartyLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.