Syria: Too Many Bombs Already

It would be wrong to say there is no argument for military action against the Syrian regime if it is proved that they were behind chemical attacks against their own people. It is right that Assad and his henchmen should be called to account, but that doesn’t mean it follows that the air strikes for which some in the US media and the UK Conservative Government are clamouring are necessarily the best course of action.

On numerous occasions Western powers led by the USA have responded to real or assumed threats from Middle Eastern states by bombing military targets. Initially we have been told that those bombings have been ‘successful’. In the longer term it is hard to see how those actions have improved the situation. Far too often the urge to ‘do something’ or be seen to ‘do something’ has prevailed over serious, honest analysis. Inevitably, in ‘surgical strikes’ innocent people die. In surgical strikes on chemical weapons stockpiles the true consequences are uncertain. ‘Surgical strikes’ on Libya from UK airfields in 1995 were pronounced a success. The reprisal was the bombing of a civilian aircraft. ‘Surgical strikes’ on Iraq at various times led to escalation, impasse and war. 

In leading a charge toward unspecified military action (almost certainly meaning air strikes) at this stage David Cameron and William Hague not only misjudge the will of the British people, who have no wish to be drawn into a high risk shooting war, but seem unwilling or unable to grasp the complexities of the situation in Syria. Earlier this year wanted to send weapons to those fighting President Assad despite it being by no means clear who these people were or what they stood for, or whether by doing so they would have in fact been arming Al Qaeda or its fellow travellers. To do so would have merely poured fuel onto the fire.

It would have been all too easy for the Labour Leader, Ed Miliband to get drawn into supporting calls for immediate military action for the ‘right reasons’ – a desire to help the tragic situation in Syria and ‘punish’ the regime for its apparent use of chemical weapons; or for the wrong reasons – for fear of appearing weak. Fortunately and not for the first time Mr Miliband engaged his brain and put the brakes on the dash to rash and foolish action. That takes political courage as well as intelligence. Not for the first time in his leadership Mr Miliband has stood against the easier course and in doing so spoken for the British people.

The UK may yet need to support action of some kind but that action needs to provide some measure of help to the Syrian people, not make things worse for them. It should protect British interests, not add to the threat. It should build bridges in the Middle East, not burn yet more. No fly zones, safe havens, serious humanitarian action to assist refugees might be better responses than more bombs where there have been too many already. What the Syrian people need more than anything else is peace – ‘surgical strikes’ rarely, if ever, achieve that.