This time, public opinion must count
The Prime Minister's decision to recall Parliament has, we suspect, already carried Britain one step closer to military intervention in Syria.
It is difficult to interpret recent events in any other way. Politicians here, in Europe and in the United States have been posturing as if they are minded to strike against President Assad following the gas attack on rebel-held territory last week. David Cameron cut short his holiday, Nick Clegg cancelled a visit to Afghanistan, and now we learn that – very promptly – the necessary missiles for air strikes are primed and ready for deployment.
No one is accusing the Government here – or even in Washington – of relishing a conflict, however much at arm's length it may be executed.
But we must assume that the omnishambles that was Iraq – and all the lessons it offered us – has not been forgotten by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
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We do not need to be reminded of former Prime Minister Tony Blair's appeal for the hand-wringing to end and the action to begin to be able to focus on the obvious parallels with Iraq.
After President Obama opened his second term, promising an end to a decade of wars, it is beginning to look as if Western leaders are again becoming intoxicated by the notion that a new military adventure in this most troubled of regions is the best policy. It may yet prove to be exactly that, but surely the UN inspectors must be allowed to do their work and present their evidence? And surely the West has to redouble its efforts to bring Russian and Chinese thinking into line with its own?
The British public is nervous about the prospect of another foreign intervention – as much as it may be appalled by the atrocities that have been carried out against defenceless people – many of them children – in Syria. But they will expect Mr Cameron to play things by the book and not be bounced headlong into a military adventure that may again embroil this nation and its armed forces in an unwanted international controversy.
Our withdrawal from Afghanistan is still a year off, and our economies are only just recovering from the financial crisis. When MPs gather today to debate Syria, we hope they will be guided by public opinion when making what are admittedly very difficult decisions.