Can Boris Johnson be trusted to run our foreign policy?
Boris Johnson took time off from the
Tory leadership EU referendum campaign in March to visit Trafalgar Square, where he unveiled an 18-foot replica of the destroyed Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria – the fate of which is close to his heart.
In a column for the Telegraph on March 27, titled ‘Bravo for Assad – he is a vile tyrant but he has saved Palmyra from ISIL’, the then London Mayor wrote that while Assad is ‘a monster, a dictator’, heading ‘one of the vilest regimes on earth’, he felt elation at the Syrian army taking back control of the ruins, adding: ‘The victory of Assad is a victory for archaeology’.
He went on to suggest the UK government should pay for British experts to help restore the site, which would be ‘far cheaper than bombing, and more likely to lead to long-term tourism and economic prosperity’.
How things change! Back in 2013, after Assad used chemical weapons on rebel-held areas of Syria, Johnson called it ‘a great, great shame’ parliament had voted against punishing the regime with airstrikes, especially for ‘a country like ours that stands for civilised and decent values’.
He then compared Assad to Adolf Hitler, remarking: ‘Not even Hitler used chemical weapons against allied troops.’
From Hitler to hero in less than three years!
Now that Johnson is Foreign Secretary, he might want to make up his mind about Assad once and for all, given Syria remains the biggest crisis on the international stage.
But can he be trusted to make an independent decision? Based on the company he keeps, we should worry.
Johnson’s close friend and holiday partner Evgeny Lebedev, the press baron who owns the (now online-only) Independent and Evening Standard, has called for Britain to ‘make Vladimir Putin an ally in the disaster that is Syria’ – a clumsy but accurate phrasing, given Russia’s airstrikes on civilians and hospitals.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s main cash cow outside his MPs salary, his £200,000-a-year column at the Telegraph, entangles him with a paper heavily subsidised by the Russian and Chinese governments – both of which back Assad.
Theresa May clearly wants a big tent, and has calculated that she’d rather have Boris Johnson urinating inside the tent than outside. (Her predecessor, David Cameron, might have a different take on the success of this approach.)
But on Syria, Johnson isn’t just a big mouth who insults foreign countries and politicians, but a major liability and potential snake in the sand.
Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13