Richard Ottaway may well be a Croydon South MP in the Sir William Clark tradition of a studied remoteness from local constituency concerns, but the Tory veteran will come into his own tomorrow when the House of Commons is recalled for an emergency debate that could see Britain effectively going into another war in the Middle East, this time taking action against Syria.
As such, he looks likely to set down some caveats about intervention in the civil war in Syria. Ottaway is definitely not in the same class as United States Senate committee on Foreign Relations chairmen like John Kerry or J William Fulbright, but his comments will be listened to as he gets called early in the debate.
When a decade ago the Commons debated Tony Blair’s decision to support George W Bush’s American invasion of Iraq, Ottaway supported the military action because of what he saw as the importance of the relationship with America. This time round, Ottaway seems certain to back his party leader in the voting lobby, as western powers want to be seen to be doing something in Syria as the west feels frustrated by the continuing ability of President Assad to stay in power.
“This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria, or going further into that conflict,” Call Me Dave, the Prime Minister, said yesterday after dragging himself back from his latest holiday, when he was off bagging badgers or some such on his father-in-law’s country estate. “It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world should not stand idly by.”
Cameron did not explain how he intended to reconcile the obvious contradiction of “not getting involved in a Middle Eastern war” when he seems to be proposing to do exactly that at the bidding of another US President.
Cameron and his Foreign Secretary William Hague, along with France, seem to favour a missile strike in response to what he believes was the use of chemical weapons in Ghoura by the Assad regime. How any such “surgical” missile strike can be conducted and not manage to kill or maim many other civilians will remain unstated, probably because it is impossible.
Parliament is pathetically weak in resisting calls to arms, as it gives in to jingoistic headlines from right-wing newspapers, and the majority of the 650 MPs succumb to pressure from their party whips. But based on previous contributions in the House, Ottaway may counsel caution.
Among Ottaway’s advisers and assistants in his political office at Westminster is Aline Nassif, a former Sadvertiser journalist and, more importantly, someone with first-hand knowledge of the Middle East, as she is of Lebanese Christian background.
She is thought to be sceptical about the value of yet another military intervention by the western powers in the Middle East, a view she holds in common with Rory Stewart, a new MP who is widely respected for his expertise in the region after having direct experience of working in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ottaway will likely seek proof to be shown to the secret Commons intelligence committee that the chemical weapons attack was undertaken by the Assad regime. He may also ask that any action should be limited so as not to aid what Ottaway has already described as “bad rebels” as compared to “good rebels”, whatever he actually meant by such simplistic definitions.
Speaking last month in a debate on arming Syrian opposition forces, Ottaway noted that the government’s view had softened significantly on having a dialogue with Assad. The government had previously had a misguided perception that Assad would be forced out.
It seems likely that Ottaway will ask what effect military action will have on securing a dialogue to bring peace to a country riven by the different geo-political ambitions of Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Israel and the western powers.
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