FOREIGN Secretary Philip Hammond ought to remember that, when he has nothing useful to say, he should keep his lip buttoned.
His contentious claim that the planned ceasefire in Syria will fail unless Russia “dramatically decreases” its bombing of moderate fighters is replete with imperial arrogance.
Hammond should be a little more modest, appreciating that neither he nor his government has played a significant role in preparing this precarious cessation of hostilities.
The driving force has been Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with active co-operation fromUS Secretary of State John Kerry.
Both have used their influence with, on the one hand, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and, on the other, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to actively seek a resolution to five years of torment suffered by the Syrian civilian population.
It won’t be easy. Much water — to say nothing of blood — has flowed under the bridge. National reconciliation will not be easy.
Nor will it be helped by the malign effects of neighbouring states’ material backing for jihadist groups.
Political grandstanding by a spectator of marginal importance is of no value other than to encourage opposition forces to boycott the talks and try to escalate the conflict.
Does Hammond seriously believe that Vladimir Putin gives a toss about a sniffy warning from the British government?
The House of Commons erupted into a collective orgasm two months ago when it backed the government’s call to launch air raids in Syria, ostensibly against Islamic State (Isis).
Since then, the much-vaunted, super-accurate, precision-guided Brimstone missile that David Cameron insisted would “cut off the head of the snake” in Raqqa has inflicted no casualties on Isis in Syria.
A substantial turnaround in military fortunes for the Damascus government in recent months has resulted largely from aerial support given to the Syrian army and its Kurdish, Palestinian, Afghan, Iraqi and Lebanese militia allies, by the Russian air force.
Years of bombing raids by US warplanes and air forces of its two dozen coalition members did not prevent advances by Isis and its terrorist allies.
The difference in results between the activity of the Russian and US coalition air armadas is that the Russians have co-ordinated their raids with ground forces committed to defeating Isis while the USAF and company have, with the exception of the Kurdish YPG fighters at Kobane, had no ground forces to work with.
Hammond’s reference to “moderate” opposition perpetuates the myth that armed formations linked to anti-Assad, “pro-democratic” political groups that raised their banners in Homs and elsewhere five years ago make a noticeable contribution to the anti-Isis struggle.
US security services acknowledge recruiting, training and arming such groups but have seen them destroyed or incorporated into Isis, the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadist bands.
Both Hammond and his like-minded Labour shadow Hilary Benn, who refers bizarrely to Russia “ending its attacks on the Syrian people,” ought to spare us, and themselves, the fairy stories.
Washington and its allies, especially Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, were all motivated by the “need” for outside-guided regime change in Damascus, despite this being against international law.
Ankara remains single-mindedly attached to this, together with a morbid antipathy to Kurdish autonomy, whether in Turkey or Syria.
But it has failed in its attempts to persuade its Nato allies to challenge Russia’s military role in Syria.
Turkey will encourage the High Negotiations Committee opposition to torpedo the peace talks in the hope of further escalation, but the task of government and opposition in Britain must be to assist the peace initiative as fully as possible.