Back in 2012 and 2013, I shouted long and hard about how the West needed to militarily intervene in Syria. I figured if we didn’t, hundreds of thousands would die and five years later we’d still be seeing mass slaughter of human life inside of Syria. As someone who objected to the Iraq invasion, I thought it was beholden upon the West to help solve a problem we had partly created. I feel justified that my stance at the time was the right one given what has followed.
Now, the stakes are much higher – as well as the double whammy being, we have less chance of success than we did in 2013. Back then, Assad was much weaker than he is now, and Russia hadn’t gotten fully involved yet. The situation on the ground is much more complex in 2018.
Before discussing what I think Britain should do now, I’d like to discount here and now is the view put forward by a letter to the Guardian today by a group of figures from the Left:
“Britain voted to join the US in bombing Syria in 2015 and was involved in covert operations before that. Its interventions have killed many people, fuelled the cycle of violence and done nothing to bring peace. Rather than backing the gung-ho foreign policy of the most inflammatory and xenophobic US president in history, the UK government should be seeking political and diplomatic solutions to the tragic situation in Syria, and to avoid anything that can escalate further the conflict in the region.”
This “diplomatic solutions” gambit is either woefully naïve or politically motivated in a sinister fashion (for the record, for most involved I think it is the former). Diplomatic solutions have been tried and tried again in Syria. They never work for a very simple reason: the regime actively does not want a peace settlement of any kind. It wants to crush all resistance to it and feels that it can do so eventually. Russia sees Syria as part of its empire re-building (taking influence from the Americans in the region) and the Iranians see it as vital in their interests that Assad delivers a brutal victory, so Assad’s backers also actively do not want a peace settlement. The political talks route has been tried and failed and will fail and fail again – until if and when Assad feels certain he is probably going to lose, and then things might change in this respect.
This is why, despite the risks having gone up since 2013, Britain should join France and America in showing Assad, Iran and Russians that using chemical weapons isn’t okay at the very, very least. Bringing up Trump’s motivations in all this is a red herring – I don’t really care what motivates Trump, if I’m being honest. I’ve already figured out that he is a narcissistic man-child, and if during the time the free world must suffer him as US president he does a few good things for the wrong or at least misguided or rash reasons, I’ll take that in amongst all of the bad.
If you want to be isolationist about this – and by that I mean, you think we shouldn’t be involved at all, in any way, including taking any refugees from the region – fine. That’s intellectually coherent at least. But if you profess to care about the people in Syria, you must see that unless the West does something, the slaughter of innocents will continue. No chiming in on Twitter about white helmet related conspiracies is going to change that fact.