When some politicians talk of red lines I start to count the spoons.
The worst offenders were Labour Ministers telling us they had defended the UK’s essential “red lines” when agreeing to the wide ranging federal Treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon.They assured us the UK would still be free to settle its own tax, welfare and benefits policies, and would still have its own criminal justice systems.
Try telling that to Mrs May as she tries to find a way of deporting someone, or to Iain Duncan Smith as he loses yet another case on benefits at the ECJ, or to the Tresasury as they witness yet another European Court judgement on corporation tax, or further requirements on VAT, a common EU tax, or to Mr Harper as he considers the latest Commissioner demand that we help more EU migrants to receive our benefits.
This week-end the issue is Mr Obama’s use of the red line phrase over Syria. Let’s hope the delay and the spin in taking action in response to the likely use of chemical weapons in Syria is a sign that he did not really mean his red line after all, just like Mr Blair in Europe. The administration is rightly demanding more proof that chemical weapons were used, that they were used by the Syrian government, and that the user had the full authority of Assad. If this is forthcoming then it is a war crime. War criminals need prosecution once they have been toppled from the protections of state power.
Let us suppose they can prove war crimes – there is plenty of evidence anyway of how loathsome this Syrain government is, and how cruel it is towards its own citizens with or without using chemical weapons. Shelling and bombing civilian populations with conventional munitions can impose horrendous injuries and deaths. The issue should be how could western military intervention help, rather than whether there is sufficient pretext for such intervention.
The problems with any military intervention are manifold. How could western bombs rain down without killing some people who are not part of the government and state armed forces? If the west uneashes some of its might to tip the balance in favour of a rebel victory, what kind of a government might replace Assad’s? How would any such replacement government heal the wounds of the current civil war? Is there a danger that more people who do not share the west’s beliefs in democracy, freedom and human rights take over in this blighted state? Could a change of government usher in a new instability, as pro Assad forces became the new rebels?