The media coverage of the decision not to take part in the attack on Syria recently was instructive. The general tone of the coverage indicated that MPs - and concomitantly the British public - were not willing to get involved in another foreign war. That is no doubt true, though the coverage failed to indicate the reasons why many MPs from all parties felt that an attack should not go ahead. My reading of the attitude of many of them is that it was not an in principle opposition so much as a feeling that nothing could be achieved by such an attack. Lobbing a few cruise missiles into Syria might well make people feel that something had been done, but it is difficult to see how killing more people in this way would help those that are being attacked by the regime.
It might have been expected that Newsnight, the BBCs flagship quality news programme, would have provided a better analysis. After all the preceding weeks had featured many politicians on the programme expressing just the sort of doubts outlined above. But instead they chose to cover the decision by the House of Commons not to join the Americans in an attack with the question 'Is Britain diminished by this decision?' The question was put not only to the home audience and politicans but also to interviewees in America and France. The general tone of the coverage was 'what will people think of us' and, to the American interviewee, 'do you hate us now?'. This sort of cringing response is disappointing. But it seems to prove the point of question. Simply by its being asked in this way suggests that we are indeed diminished. A more confident response might have been to ask the American and French interviewees if they, too, would follow Britain's lead and also refer the decision to their democratic assemblies. Given that Barak Obama chose to do just that a day or so later only reinforces the point.
So are we diminished by refusing to join a pointless attack on an, admittedly, repressive regime on the grounds that no positive outcome could be gained by such an attack? I suggest that we are not diminished by the decision but by the media's response to it. The obsession with our 'special relationship' with America which manifested itself yet again in the coverage is just another aspect of a national psyche that diminishes itself daily by an obsession with its position in relation to the United States.