Whether or not we should bomb Syria I don’t know, but I am pretty sure that we are not being told everything we need to know before briefing our local MP on how to vote. That’s usually the case. But some things seem fairly evident without being spelled out.
First, and despite what the BBC’s Mark Mardell appears to think, last night’s Commons vote against the coalition government’s plans for intervention is unlikely to give the Obama administration much pause for thought. Why should they care? Militarily, of course, the US does not need our help to attack Damascus. They can go ahead and do it all themselves, and probably will. They simply want our complicity: payback for all the benefits we supposedly enjoy in all the obligations inherent in our membership of the international club of nations leading the so-called ‘war on terror.’ We are entitled to speculate about whether our benefits fully match our contributions. The extent of that interdependence, that give and take, is only now becoming clear.
We now know, from the Snowden revelations for example, that the NSA helps pay for GCHQ’s services. I didn’t know that before, but I assume, without necessarily disapproving, that there are plenty of other axes of shared information and delegated responsibility binding the two organisations together. Many of them are probably useful.
It may be that we do not need to know all this; just trust and accept that the decencies are observed, democratic freedoms are respected and that genuine threats are being averted, both at home and abroad. If it is done, it were better it be done well.
In this context and its implicit licence to sit out any game we don’t want to join in at the moment, a vote in the House of Commons, especially a non-binding one, is so much rhetoric. But our representatives can still make themselves useful by asking questions which the security state still has to answer.
After years of being treated like cattle, MPs can be forgiven a long-buried desire to be listened to with respect. They don’t want to be fooled again by mendacious ‘dossiers’ and leaks of supposedly correct information as happened in 2003.
Which brings me to my second assumption. That is that there is a lot more going on at the moment than we are being told, and that this inevitably skews the debate. I take it for example that the western security fellowship is already talking to someone in Syria’s command and control cadre; either that, or just listening to his phone calls. He may be our friend; he may not. He may be interested in Assad’s survival or he may not. As nations we need to know who this person is and whether he can be relied on, but of course we cannot expect to be told any of this for the moment. This is where trust comes in. We need to trust that our players in this game are being realistic; not selling us out; doing things right. That means finding the right balance between our being told what we need to know before voting this way or that and it being kept from us, for now.
So what happened to the Chilcott Enquiry, eh?