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For A Glimpse Of The West's Shifting Position On Syria, Look At London

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The attacks in Paris are pushing Western leaders to do more in Syria. To get a sense of how things are shifting, we turn now to London. Today, Prime Minister David Cameron went to Parliament and said the U.K. must bomb ISIS targets in Syria.

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DAVID CAMERON: I'm in no doubt that it is in our national interest for action to be taken to stop them, and stopping them means taking action in Syria.

SHAPIRO: Now let's turn the clock back two years to a humiliating defeat for Cameron. In 2013, he asked Parliament to support airstrikes in Syria. The regime had just used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, and yet lawmakers said no.

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CAMERON: It is very clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.

SHAPIRO: That vote rippled across the Atlantic to the United States, where President Obama had decided to strike Syria.

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BARACK OBAMA: I've made a second decision. I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.

SHAPIRO: Seeking that approval was an abrupt change of course for him, but the vote never happened. Now the world is recovering from terror attacks in Paris and Beirut and the Sinai Peninsula. ISIS claimed responsibility for all of them. The U.S. has said it's sending in special operations forces into Syria. France and the U.S. are bombing targets there. And now the British Parliament seems more likely than ever to approve Prime Minister Cameron's latest request.

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CAMERON: The reason for acting is the very direct threat that ISIL poses to our country and to our way of life.

SHAPIRO: Tim Eaton is a Syria expert with the Chatham House think tank in London. And he told me he doesn't think this change really addresses the underlying problem.

TIM EATON: What I think what we've seen is that British policy is very reactive in Syria. Just as the vote that you referenced in the introduction came after the attack of chemical weapons, this vote is motivated by the events in Paris. And what worries us as Middle East analysts is that the policies that are being debated in Parliament don't really emanate from what's happening inside Syria and the complexities of that conflict.

SHAPIRO: Are you saying that you don't expect a change in policy to have the desired outcome, that it's just political posturing, or are you saying that it is the wrong policy altogether?

EATON: Well, I think the big question - everybody accepts the airstrikes on their own cannot lead to the defeat of ISIS. And Mr. Cameron was very clear in his remarks that he didn't believe that either. He believed that airstrikes had to be part of a grander strategy. The question is does that strategy really exist?

SHAPIRO: And I take it you believe the answer is no.

EATON: I do. And if we look at the points that Mr. Cameron's presented to Parliament today - he's presented a seven-point plan - we see that it's exactly the same strategy as before with airstrikes stacked on top.

SHAPIRO: If you look beyond British policy, do you think the international approach generally to Syria suffers from the same shortcomings you've just described in Britain?

EATON: I think it does. And, I mean, let's be honest here as well, this is a brutally complex conflict. We need to accept that this is a long-term conflict with long-term implications and that those implications are also regional. So our actions - rather than a knee-jerk response to the attacks in Paris to conduct airstrikes - need to look at the drivers of these conflicts and how we can gradually look to tackle them.

SHAPIRO: So I began by saying this is a dramatic shift. But it sounds like you're implying that this might not actually be such a fundamental policy shift at all but rather just some sort of a knee-jerk reaction.

EATON: That is my perspective. I think that this is essentially window dressing for the same strategy. When we look at the attempts to degrade and undermine ISIS in Syria, we already know that the U.S. and other allies are striking from the air. But we haven't seen a discernible impact on ISIS. And now that's because of a number of reasons, not least of which a lack of intelligence, that ISIS are adept at hiding targets and also that there are strict rules of engagement - and rightly so because without those strict rules of engagement, there would be a high danger of civilian casualties.

SHAPIRO: That's Tim Eaton, a Syria specialist at the Chatham House think tank in London. Thanks very much for joining us.

EATON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.