Intervention in Syria must be aimed at toppling Assad - or there's no point

Token engagement would be equally damaging to both the west and to Syria. We should consider the costs of leaving the regime in the place.

David Cameron has recalled Parliament in order to have a vote on whether or not the UK should take military action against Syria. I applaud this move; it is one I have long argued for. But the early signs are not encouraging. The suggestion seems to be that we will make a limited response to the use of chemical weapons. In other words, this is not about regime change but about making some sort of tit for tat, "let's show them who's the boss", strike. Such an effort would be completely pointless.

Some argue that we should not be choosing sides in Syria. But we already have. Our leaders decided long ago that they wanted Assad out and have said so on numerous occasions. As a result, we either get involved with the idea of making a real, positive difference in Syria or we stay clear of the whole thing. After the chemical weapons incident of the 21st, sitting on the sidelines seems almost impossible. If we don't respond to chemical weapons being used, we give carte blanche to every tin pot dictator to use them with impunity from here on. But token engagement would be equally damaging to both the west and to Syria. If we're going to take action that we know will cost lives, it needs to be done with the thought in mind that many more lives will be saved in the long-term through our efforts.

I was on Daybreak this morning before Diane Abbott, who has warned that she may resign from the Labour frontbench if Ed Miliband endorses military intervention in Syria. While we fundamentally disagree on the basics, I agree with Diane on one thing: if Britain gets involved in any way militarily we take some level of ownership over the whole thing. We cannot 'kind of' get involved - once we're in, whatever happens in Syria from then on becomes our business in a way that isn't true if we sit on our hands. All of which is fine so long as we aim to make our intervention count.

People have compared the current situation we face with Syria to that we faced over Iraq 10 years ago. While there are many differences between the two scenarios (there is a war going on in Syria that we should be trying to stop, whereas there was no war in Iraq before we invaded), the parallel with Iraq that no one has yet made is the 1991 Gulf War and the failure to depose Saddam. It was about Kuwait, it was said at the time, nothing more. How likely is it that 12 years from now we are going to have to send troops into Syria when the civil war is still raging and the number of people killed or displaced has entered the millions? I think we would be severely regretting not having taken the chance to end the conflict when we had the opportunity to do so.

William Hague arrives in Downing Street on August 28, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nick Tyrone is associate director, external affairs, at Centre Forum.

Getty
Show Hide image

Barack Obama throws a Reaganesque baton of hope to Hillary Clinton

The 44th President's speech backing Clinton was also his swan song. 

Barack Obama looked at ease as he stepped up to praise Hillary Clinton and endorse her as the Democratic Presidential nominee.

To an upbeat soundtrack by U2 and cheers of his 2008 campaign slogan, "yes we can", he took to the podium at the Democratic convention. 

Borrowing the sunny optimism once so skilfully deployed by Republicans, Obama struck back against Republican nominee Donald Trump's "deeply pessimistic vision" of the United States.

He declared: "The America I know is full of courage and optimism and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous."

Like his wife Michelle, Obama painted Clinton as a grafter who wasn't in it for the fame. 

He praised her campaign when they were rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and said that when she served as a member of his team he had "a front-row seat" to her intelligence, judgement and discipline. 

He declared: "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America."

He then joked to Bill Clinton, the former President, who was standing applausing: "I hope you don't mind, Bill, but I was just telling the truth, man."

The two-terms President continually urged Democratic voters, many of whom originally backed Bernie Sanders, to get out and vote. "Democracy isn't a spectator sport," he said.

But while Obama was there to add some sparkle to the Clinton campaign, it was also an opportunity to shape his legacy. 

Commentators have often compared Obama to the popular Democratic President John F Kennedy, or the less popular but idealistic Jimmy Carter. 

Obama, though, has in the past praised the Republican President Ronald Reagan for changing the trajectory of US politics. 

In his speech, he borrowed from the "eternal optimist" to compare the Democrats with the Republicans. 

He said: "Ronald Reagan called America "a shining city on a hill." Donald Trump calls it "a divided crime scene" that only he can fix.

"It doesn't matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they've been in decades, because he's not actually offering any real solutions to those issues. He's just offering slogans, and he's offering fear. He's betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election."

Obama praised a diverse country, where immigrant cultures combined: "That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don't fear the future; we shape it, embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own."

The 44th President bowed out by referring to his 2008 campaign of hope, and telling voters "America, you have vindicated that hope". And he thanked them "for this incredible journey":

"I'm ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen. So this year, in this election, I'm asking you to join me, to reject cynicism and reject fear and to summon what is best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States."

There is no doubt that Obama's warm audience was ready to pick up that baton and pass it on. Whether the wider country will be warmed up enough by his Reagan rhetoric remains to be seen. 

You can read the full speech here