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Syrian massacres expose Britain’s pretence

7 June 2012

1:00 PM

7 June 2012

1:00 PM

More than a week on from the massacre at Houla, another hundred or so men, women and children have been slaughtered in Hama, Syria. They were apparently stabbed to death and some of their bodies then burned. David Cameron has responded to this by describing the killings as ‘brutal and sickening’. William Hague had previously described the Houla massacre as ‘deeply disturbing.’

So what is Britain going to do about it?

The Prime Minister has a suggestion: ‘I think that lots of different countries in the world — countries that sit around the UN Security Council table — have got to sit down today and discuss this issue.’ He goes on to say, ‘It really is appalling, what is happening in that country, and I want to see concerted action from the international community.’

All of which should remind us of the increasingly dangerous divide between the game our politicians talk and the reality of what they can actually now do. As I pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last week, it is all very well to find the stabbing and killing of children to be ‘disturbing’, ‘brutal’ and ‘sickening’. I would hope that most people find this to be so. But Mr Cameron and Mr Hague are meant to be more than emoting actors. They are in positions of power. We do not need to be reminded of their opposition to the stabbing of children. The only question for them is: ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Their answer is to rely on the UN Security Council to do something, despite every party involved knowing not only that the Security Council will not work, but could not work in this case.

Here, typified, is the problem of Britain’s current place in the world: the gap between what our politicians imply our capabilities to be and the realities of them. Either we can spend a serious amount on defence and wield a world-class military which allows us to act in the world to defend our interests and values. Or we keep up the rhetorical niceties but increasingly fail to have the clout to do things.

At the very least, how much better it would be if even one politician finally stood up and said, ‘I’d love to do something about these terrible things that are happening, but the fact is we don’t have the kit, the manpower or the cash anymore’.  If even one politician did this then it might finally jolt us into considering what we want to be as a nation. Instead we have this lamentable pretence.

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