Theresa May has ordered the British military to “take action” in Syria to deter the use of chemical weapons. Four RAF Tornado jets joined American and French forces in attacking Syrian targets yesterday, entirely without Parliamentary approval. This affair was been brought on by the supposed chemical weapons usage against citizens by Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. Currently, the dictator is nearing an end to his civil war against the rebels, whom are largely composed of members of IS.
This sounds very familiar: A Middle Eastern dictator, in the alleged possession of chemical weapons, being targeted militarily by the west, for humanitarian causes. We have heard this narrative trumpeted fiercely by Western Nations towards Iraq and we heard it again towards Libya. The outcomes of these interventions were universally panned. They were seen to have caused disorder, death and destruction: less good than before the interventions, and at a tremendous financial cost. We would have thought that after the civil war and civilian death toll in Iraq, maybe the West might have learned a thing or two about emotive warfare. Maybe after the anarchy in Libya the west may have looked back on its past decision-making with disgust and mortification. Maybe now that we can see that the toppling of strongman regimes in the region of the world generations-deep within sectarian violence is a terrible strategy with regards to Western security. But apparently these facts will not dissolve within the Cabinet. “Action in Syria” is “not a matter of if, but when”.
I expect MPs from all sides of the house to be pedalling a point of view that ignores Iraq or are loosely based on how 2005 was “different” to the situation today after the events in Douma. In a way, it is. Syria is already a nest for terrorists when and where the Syrian regime is weak while in Iraq this was not the case. Syria, too, is a situation sat beneath the long shadow of a destructive military intervention merely one border away and roughly one decade ago. Syria, today, is a small country with a large guardian: Russia; it was not the same for Iraq. The brigade of excuses that a Minister or MP may have summoned to justify the attack in Iraq are simply impossible to make today. We have seen the evidence of intervention being a catalyst for terrorism and anarchy in an already dangerous part of the world. For a Western Government to commit to acts of mass stupidity overseas surely sends ferocious tremors of doubt within their veneer of wisdom. While Bashar inherited power from Hafez, May seems to be inheriting the poor judgement of Blair on foreign policy. If anything, Syria intervention would be far worse than Iraq if decisions made within the fog of war escalate as one might expect.
We can see the storm of consequences brewing already from such a plan. To punish Assad will certainly provoke Russia, the most obvious security threat to Western powers since 1945. To make Assad’s regime less stable will be playing into the hands of Islamic State militants who have every intention of causing the West pain and misery. Our acts will be to simultaneously incur the wrath of Russia and possibly the wrath of terrorists. It would seem like we would be damned to do it on both sides of the aisle: a gun to our left and a gun to our right, both poised at our head. And whose lives are we saving? Whose safety are we ensuring? The civil war is already effectively at an end: by making a zombie out of it, are we not worsening the migration crisis in Europe? And are we not ensuring that Assad’s hand will be forced to commit even more civilian murders in an attempt to stabilise his hold on power? Clearly the current motives of the Government invite an endless barrage of questions without stable answers.
There seems, then, to be very little sense in attacking Assad when it would be staring at World War III in the face while at the same time shaking hands with Islamic State with one hand and beckoning more undocumented migrants into Europe with the other. All for the sake of chemical weapons: one tool amongst many others with the purpose of killing citizens. The dismay of Mrs May over the usage of chemical weapons would also seem remarkably opportunistic: Governments across the planet murder their own civilians in ways as diverse as they are cruel. North Korea seems to have been systematically starving their citizens for generations, for example: A “crime against humanity” far more prevalent and gruesome than these alleged chemical weapons attacks. North Korea, just like Syria, has powerful allies in the form of Russia and/or China. Even before North Korea had a somewhat capable nuclear weapons program, Western leaders would have agreed that attacking North Korea for their brutality towards their own people would be dangerous in consideration of their northern allies. It is nothing short of remarkable, then, that Western powers have the barefaced optimism to attack a nation that is militarily co-operating with Russia without any dangerous blowback.
The case of Syria and chemical weapons needs to conjure up a déjà vu for the West: just like the case of Iraq, our Governments are not omnipotent and cannot simply rain missiles into another country expecting to get our way with no potentially disastrous consequences. Recycling the stimuli of war will not lead to peace, be it Syrian or British. There are sometimes valid justifications for wars, but so far it seems that May’s actions on Syria are nothing short of perilous for all involved.