Muhammad Idrees Ahmad at Al Jazeera:
It was inevitable that any conversation in Britain on foreign intervention would take place in the shadow of the Iraq War. To sell that war to a reluctant public, Tony Blair’s government fabricated a threat, presented it as imminent and prescribed urgent action. Humanitarian rationales were added afterward. The threat, as many had suspected, proved false, and the war, as everyone feared, created a human catastrophe. The British public, which had opposed the war, felt betrayed. A lesson was learned.
Both sides invoked Iraq in last week’s parliamentary debate. But the only lessons that were drawn were politically serviceable ones. In insisting that Britain must not get involved in “another Middle Eastern war,” the Labour Party implied that Iraq was a disaster due less to Labour’s mistakes than to the intractability of the Middle East. In blaming Blair’s “dodgy dossier,” the Conservatives ignored their own party’s complicity in sanctioning an unnecessary war. Both overlooked the fact that just two years ago, with near unanimity, the House of Commons approved the use of force against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. The lessons of Iraq were no less valid then and the current situation in Syria is direr.
With the exception of some fringe figures, neither side in the debate denies that the regime’s atrocities are ongoing. This wasn’t the case in Iraq: in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s worst atrocities were more than a decade behind him. But last week’s debate in parliament wasn’t concerned with human rights — it couldn’t have been, since the British government was selling chemical agents to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as late as January 2012. The focus was narrower: on the use of chemical weapons in defiance of the “red line” that President Obama claimed the Assad regime could not cross. The evidence for their use, past and present, is substantial, but parliament showed greater caution than it had in the case of Iraq, where only possession was alleged. Because of “Blair's trickery,” writes journalist Brian Whitaker, “the level of proof required for military intervention is not merely high (as it should be) but unrealistically high.”