By John McDermott
FT.com – 2 December 2015
The majority of Conservative MPs will support the Prime Minister’s motion to extend RAF air strikes against Isis in Iraq to Syria. They are expected to join enough Labour, Liberal Democrat and Northern Irish MPs to give David Cameron the “clear majority” he wants to approve action. The Prime Minister has probably convinced enough MPs that the direct threat from the Islamist militants warrants expanding air strikes and, perhaps more importantly, that British influence with key allies and in the Vienna talks on Syria’s future requires it to step up its role in the coalition bombing Isis.
Many parliamentarians will, however, cast their votes with reluctance, scepticism and concern that Britain has not learnt the lessons of history.
“Not many people are satisfied that bombing will do any good whatsoever,”
said one senior Conservative MP,
“but on the whole, people will go with it – with considerable unease.”
A similar sentiment was behind the Lib Dem decision on Tuesday evening to support the government. Former party leader Nick Clegg said:
“None of us thought the military case was particularly overwhelming but it is very difficult for an internationalist party to ignore a heartfelt plea from our closest European ally and when the UN is pretty much demanding action.”
For Labour MPs, Tony Blair’s drive in 2003 to join the US-led invasion of Iraq – and the view of that intervention as disingenuously sold and maladroitly planned – haunts the Opposition.
Conscious of the consequences of the war he himself supported as a new MP, Mr Cameron said on Wednesday:
“Let us not look back to Iraq and 2003 … we have to separate in our minds, our actions and our votes the case in front of us now from what people feel they were told back in 2003.”
And yet for Conservatives, a more recent call by the Prime Minister looms larger: Mr Cameron’s decision in 2011 to take military action in Libya against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi – a decision seen by many MPs as taken hastily, emotionally and without proper planning … Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee … embodies the sceptical support for intervention among Conservative backbenchers.
“The missing element in all this is a successful Syrian army that in the future can take the fight to [Isis]”,
said Mr Blunt.
“That is why the transition planning is so important.”
He added that the Prime Minister was making a “reasonable stab” at giving the UK greater influence over the political settlement … But he questioned the quantity and quality of the 70,000 “moderate” ground forces Mr Cameron believes can help take territory vacated by Isis.
Julian Lewis MP, Chairman of the Defence Committee, agreed.
“One vital question remains,”
“Who will supply the credible ground forces without which air strikes cannot be decisive?”
“If military intervention is to succeed, a multinational force must be assembled. This means forming an international coalition with regional powers who are willing and able to mount the military effort on the ground. We should oppose mounting air strikes unless and until that happens.”