The election is coming - don't mention the war

November 24, 2016 23:25

Twenty years ago this summer the brutal war in Bosnia reached its bloody denouement. Massacres in Tuzla, Markale and, most infamously, the UN "safe haven" of Srebrenica - where 8,000 men and boys were murdered in the space of a few days - finally provoked international intervention and brought to an end a three-year conflict in which more than 100,000 people died and 2.2 million people were driven from their homes.

The Bosnian conflict had begun as an unloved British government and an unconvincing opposition fought the 1992 general election campaign to a photo-finish.

The growing violence in Bosnia barely registered as a matter for debate. Foreign policy rarely does. Despite the honourable efforts of the-then Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, government and opposition frontbenches maintained an ignominious consensus.

There are eerie echoes in the non-debate about foreign policy today - which is why you will hear very little about it over the next six weeks.

Syria's civil war, in which more than 200,000 people have died and nine million have fled their homes, shows no signs of abating.

Combating Islamic State, David Cameron carries a small stick

The abandonment of the people of Syria has bequeathed a jidhadist state, which controls territory equivalent to the size of the UK. When it comes to combating Islamic State, David Cameron speaks loudly and carries a small stick.

As the Defence Select Committee argued last month, the jihadi state shelters an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters, many of them "dedicated to an international terrorist campaign".

Despite that threat, the committee's chair, Rory Stewart, diplomatically terms Britain's contribution to the fight against IS "strikingly modest". Its eight tornados have carried out just six per cent of the US-led airstrikes.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, is right to accuse Cameron of leading Britain to "international irrelevance". It was, however, Ed Miliband's decision to "stop the rush to war in Syria" which played a huge part in determining that irrelevance.

In a revealing insight into the way he views the conflict, Miliband once again referred to his position on Syria as an example of how his party had "moved on" from New Labour.

Labour rails against isolationism, pledges a "progressive internationalist" foreign policy and says it wants to strengthen international institutions to allow "intervention to prevent genocide and repression".

Yet it can't support the government when it wants to punish a dictator who uses chemical weapons and it won't press that government over its woeful inertia in the face of the barbaric Islamic State.

That silence speaks volumes when compared with the force with which, fearing they were about to be outflanked on their left by the Lib Dems, Miliband and Alexander last summer attacked the government for failing to denounce Israel's war against Hamas.

Twenty years ago, Britain's politicians marked the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War with vows of "never again" as ethnic cleansing and genocide were once again occurring in Europe. Don't be surprised, then, if today they stand to one side in the face of conflicts in far away lands of which they know little.

November 24, 2016 23:25

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive