I know very little about it. I suspect the same is true of most of those who are commentating on the radio and the television – let alone the internet. We’ve probably picked up a bit of knowledge over the last couple of years. A sense of the geography. A basic grasp of the Assad regime maybe. Perhaps an overview of the ebb and flow of the conflict itself. But I would not claim to understand Syria.
The chance of Western forces intervening, in some form, are increasing by the day. And that worries me. Not because we should never intervene – indeed standing idly by is a choice too and one which doesn’t seem to have done much good so far – but simply because I have seen nothing to suggest that we know what we would be trying to achieve.
Is it a more level killing field (to quote Douglas Hurd)? Or is it the complete defeat of Assad? And if it’s the latter, what comes next?
There are many who say that Iraq is not a reason to stay out of Syria. They are right. But that does not mean that there are not lessons to be learned. Aiming for regime change is not enough. We went after Saddam on this basis and few would hold up ‘post-Mission Accomplished Iraq’ as a shining example for future interventions.
If regime change is the objective – and there is a strong case for removing Assad – it needs to be made clear both to the peoples whose troops are being deployed, and to the peoples being asked to welcome them, what will come next. Without a viable plan for sorting out the mess, we could not claim to be anything other than an occupation nor predict when we might get out.
The situation in Syria is beyond description. Slaughter such as this must have no place in the modern world and those with the capacity to act have a duty to do so. But until we know what we want to achieve, it is unclear that military intervention is the way to achieve it. Those of us who don’t know much about Syria but care deeply about what happens to its peoples have a duty to ask questions of all those who purport to have a solution – and to be especially wary of so-called easy options.
As such, parliament must be recalled in advance of any decision. Isabel Hardman is right to defend “Parliament as the chosen representative of the British public, not simply some grand supper club where issues are debated. A failure to recall would signal, in their eyes, contempt for the public, not simply a desire to keep pesky MPs from making the decisions even messier.”
The history of intervention is littered with allegedly simple deployments that fast became complicated, bloody and expensive. We must talk about Syria and what a military intervention is seeking to achieve – regime change without a positive plan is no solution.
“All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.” Spike Milligan
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Thomas Jefferson
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