|BBC June 13th
I haven’t been to Syria, even when I could actually get into the country. A visa isn’t easy to get and friends who did visit came back with amoebic dysentery, which is something of a metaphor for what I want to say. Everybody, it seems, is having their shout about its current problems, so I’m going to as well. Those who know me will understand that I have a degree of vested interest in some kind of calm descending, however tenuous, on that poor, sad, conflict-ridden area.
I’m not going to join the ever-increasing cohort of hand-wringers, nor do I make remark about right or wrong. When a war, uprising or whatever else one wants to call it starts and people begin killing each other, it isn’t who’s right or wrong, it’s who’s left that shapes the future. Assad is a tyrant, for sure, but his currently embattled replacements will bring their own form of tyranny. In other words, it really doesn’t matter who comes out on top, the result for the majority of the Syrian people will not be a smooth and well-oiled transition into a Western-style democracy, should they wish such an outcome; instead a captivity which may be more irksome and restrictive that the one under which they now suffer.
Civilised people all over the world are justifiably filled with moral outrage – little could be worse that a leader, however he comes to power – gassing his own people. Chemical weaponry has been deployed – of this there is little doubt. But, who deployed it and why? If it is Assad’s forces then he has to face the moral consequences, now or later. Similarly if rogue elements have found a way to supply themselves with such weapons – with the country in chaos this is surely not inconceivable, then they too will ultimately face judgement. In the meantime, Western powers are talking tough about ‘intervention’, which seems nothing more than adding fuel to an already highly unpredictable fire which Syria has threatened to widen if attacked to engulf its neighbour to the west. This single page website went viral on Twitter yesterday.
One thing is sure, unless the response is unanimous, calibrated and decisive, it will do more harm than good and even that cannot be guaranteed because Syria’s friends are just looking for an excuse to burn the Zionists. Sticking Western noses into Eastern wars hasn’t usually resulted in tidy, predictable conclusions. Some politicians have sanctioned intervention on the grounds that its specific outcome must be to deter or prevent any future use of chemical weapons. Such an outcome is highly desirable but completely unrealistic operationally, in short, the policy is barking mad. Using chemical weapons is appalling. But nothing changes the political logic of achieving peace in Syria. If this is not the single primary goal of any intervention, then it is muddle-headed and overzealous at best and duplicitous at worst. If the rebel forces overthrow the government, they will replace it with an Islamic dictatorship much worse than Morsi’s attempts to Islamise Egypt. Hamlet’s undiscovered country beckons bleakly. No peace there.