September 13, 2013

Syrian crisis resolution has lessons for democratic process

Fri Sep 13, 2013

It was with a huge sigh of relief that millions of people the world over, nervously passed the week leading up to the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001. That feeling of relief came about, because those millions were fearful of the consequences of a US bombing of Syria, both the direct yet uncertain fall-out, as well as the negative implications for the world economy.{{more}}

In the end, by the time US President Barack Obama gave his much-anticipated nation-wide address, on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, events had so evolved that rather than an announcement of imminent military confrontation, the President expressed his willingness to permit other non-violent approaches with the objective of ending the use of deadly chemical weapons in the tragic Syrian conflict.

It is a pity that the major international news media have become so hooked on the idea of military conflict that they led the discussion as to whether the US should “strike” or not, as though war and armed conflict are the only solutions possible. There is also the constant theme of the “Good guy” vs “Bad guy” scenario, played out before in the Middle East, as in the cases of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

It was only inevitable therefore, that even in countries far removed from that war-torn region, such as in the Caribbean, the debate raged over whether the US should “hit” Syria and how far such an intervention should go. There were mixed views as to what course President Obama, who came to office promising to end the hugely unpopular and costly wars in which his country was mired, should take.

In the long run, developments at the international level mercifully spared president Obama the agony of having to announce a military incursion in Syria, an act which he publicly admitted would go against the grain of American public opinion, even that of his own wife. The initiative taken by the Russian President to seek to get Syria to surrender the murderous chemical weapons without having to resort to armed action, offered a possible solution which Obama could not refuse.

While the focus has now turned to the difficulties in ensuring international support for the Russian initiative and then, in having Syria comply, there is a lesson which has emerged from the whole process which ought not to be lost on us. That lesson relates to the role that the legislatures, in both the USA and the United Kingdom, played in preventing a rush to war and the willingness of President Obama and his British counterpart, David Cameron, to seek the approval of the elected representatives of their respective peoples.

This speaks volumes for the democratic process and starkly differs from the approaches of their predecessors, Messrs Bush and Blair in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also instructive to note that on both sides of the Atlantic, the Congressional and parliamentary representatives were mindful of the abhorrence of their constituents to be dragged in another resource-draining war. Some may have done it through fear and self-interest, fearing negative consequences at the next election, but that in itself is not a bad development. It merely underlines that in a democracy, it is the will of the people which ought to be supreme.

So as we continue to follow the Syrian crisis, it would do us a world of good to dwell on these developments. We should ask ourselves whether our current Parliamentary practice allows for cross-party agreement on issues which go against the chosen path of the political leadership and how we as a people can get our elected representatives to take account of the wishes, interests and needs of their electors, and the country as a whole in their decisions and actions.