Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

It's okay, Dave. At least you're not Blair.

David Cameron may be useless, but at least he listened on Syria. And, inadvertently, he may have revived Parliamentary democracy.
I accept that I'm probably the only person with anything remotely positive to say about Cameron today, and nobody's more shocked about that than I am. But when he lost the Parliamentary vote to get Britain into yet another foreign war that we can't resource, wouldn't be able to get out of, and is none of our business, he gave in.

I give the guy a little credit for that, even if his surrender's born of a realisation that he ballsed this up big-time by trying to force the UK into it before the UN inspection results and - crucially -- while everyone here still remembered what happened over Iraq and Afghanistan. I couldn't help thinking that if it had been the vile Blair in Cameron's place, he'd have ignored the vote and said God had told him it was okay.

I made a point of watching the live debate yesterday and witnessed something that I didn't expect to see in my lifetime. Many backbench MPs* from all parties actually showed a glimmer of emerging sentience and reflected public opinion. They didn't fall into line behind their masters and vote as they were told. They appeared to think through the important strategic stuff -- exactly what outcome do we want, will blatting Syria achieve it, who else will pitch in, and once we get in, how do we get out?

Watching the vote, I almost believed we had a democracy at work for a change. MPs who I'd thought were in a persistent vegetative state suddenly regained political consciousness and made cogent arguments. It was Parliament doing its job and reining in the PM -- not just nodding, braying, and trotting out the party line, but arguing in exactly the language that the electorate uses. They asked the obvious questions that the media -- for the most part -- haven't. The pro-war MPs seemed to have no cogent argument beyond won't-somebody-think-of-the-children, which is very worthy, but bombing Syria would probably kill some kids too, one way or another. I don't expect they'd feel any better for dying via non-banned weapons or the unintended consequences we always seem blind to. As some MPs have said: if this is really about stopping human suffering, where were we when people were being butchered in Zimbabwe?

Astonishingly, I even found George Galloway making perfect sense**. Do we really want to back Syrian rebels, given what many of them are? (Because that's what attacking Assad would mean, however you dress it up.) What would a few missiles achieve in stopping the use of specific weapons, let alone a civil war? How far would the war escalate beyond Syria's borders if we did? And what's the point of bleating about the UN, feeble as it is, when ignoring it just means one country can decide to bomb or invade whoever it likes, whenever it likes? The UNSC veto is there for that very reason. And it's not as if the US and the UK don't use theirs.

The people who want military action still don't seem to be clear on whether intervention is about getting rid of Assad (and, like him or not, that's not our choice to make) or using chemical weapons. When you start from that position, you know mission creep will surely follow. And then there's proof. If you want to commit to armed conflict, especially if it might very well suck in Iran, Israel, and a lot of other Middle East countries who don't look too secure themselves, you're going to have to do better than "reasonable doubt" or "highly probable."

We'll look back on this when the reality sinks in and realise it was also the day when we started doing what was best for the UK rather than best for the banks, multinationals, the EU, or the USA. Some commentators have interpreted the vote as refusing to carry on as America's poodle, but I think that however damaging to the UK the one-way "Special Relationship" is, most of the cheerleading for attacking Syria has come from Cameron, Hague, and the French, not from Obama.

The UK isn't "the international community." We're just one state, a small, poor, utterly buggered country that needs to get its own house in order before it starts telling Johnny Foreigner how to run his affairs. If we want to do good in the world, there are plenty of other ways and other places to do it. And we don't exactly have a successful record when it comes to intervening. If the USA and France think it's in their best interests to get mixed up in Syria, fine. But we've got other places that really are our business and we'd be prudent to keep our military resources to look after our own people.

(*Please don't think for one minute that this makes up for our politicians' record of fiddling, lying, thieving, shagging, perjury, and generally being parasitic dicks. But even a stopped clock has two shining moments of rightness a day.)

(** On a good day, I can make Jeremy Clarkson look like Polly Toynbee. Uber-lefty Galloway is as far from me politically as it's possible to get. Stopped clocks again.)