Assad has gassed some more Syrians and Mrs May wants to hold him to account, as does the rest of the West. Dare I ask how?
Syria is pretty much rubble, so there are no economic options (even if they work). No doubt he committed a war crime, so I suppose we could serve a writ – although he might choose to ignore it as other transgressors have done. Which I guess leaves only the military option, although that has a few problems too.
Sending in ground forces (possibly rapid reaction ones) without a clear mission is folly and one thing we do not have about Syria is any clarity about the mission. Also they might get turned into body bags and, as we know, getting troops on to the ground (rapidly or otherwise) is child’s play compared with getting them out.
Option B is drop some bombs. Sadly even this military action of choice of the weak leader is not straightforward. For a start, we (the West) have been bombing Syria on and off for a decade or so with little benefit. Secondly, bombs come with big bangs, which tend to kill people, which is unfortunate if the bomb misses its target – as many do. Dropping 1,000kg of high explosive on Suliman kills him just as quickly as would a couple of drops of VX, or other chemical weapon of your choice (apart from Novichok, it seems).
Speaking of targets, as bombing rubble changes little, what bit of remaining Syria do you want to hit? It’s reasonable to assume that Butcher Assad has his important stuff safely underground. Which means the only real option is military facilities such as ports and airfields. Unfortunately those also have Vlad’s chaps on them, and Vlad is a vengeful chap who might react badly to the RAF obliterating a few Russian servicemen. And Vlad has nukes and tanks and stuff. Oh, and Vlad’s guys are there operating some of the best air defence systems money can buy. Recent defence cuts (thanks, Gordon, Dave and Theresa) have done enough damage to the RAF without giving Vlad’s guys target practice. And let’s not forget that Moshe the Israeli jet jockey is also in the area, as is Mustapha from our NATO ally Turkey. So the military situation is confused (and that’s only the air bit). But hey, what could go wrong?
Alternatively Theresa could do that thing that the inhabitants of Westminster find so challenging, and think first. Might it be possible that the whole Arab Spring idea was a little worse than Cool Britannia? Many people have died replacing despot with another despot/fundamentalist clerics/anarchy/civil war/utter rubble-isation. Might it be that the concept of Western Liberal democracy works only in the liberal West (hint: read the words)? In which case we need to consider, to paraphrase Bismarck, whether admittedly awful events in Syria are worth the candle to us in the UK?
Another German, (well Prussian), Clausewitz, wrote that war is a continuation of politics by other means. He worked for a top-notch politician, Bismarck, although of course Prussia then was far from a liberal democracy. But the point is that in the Clausewitz world politics meant national leadership. In the leadership vacuum that has characterised May’s premiership it’s surely more prudent to abandon Clausewitz for Machiavelli and conclude that war is something that the wise ruler avoids.
Here’s the reality; Syria is stuffed. There is nothing that we can do about it. Using armed force to achieve nothing at the taxpayers’ expense is an immoral futile ego boost for failing politicians.
Add in the fact that we are told that Vlad’s chaps actually used chemical weapons against a UK citizen on UK soil but we have yet to declare war (which is what dropping bombs actually means) and it seems a bit odd when Vlad’s mate kills a few of his own people our establishment gets more excited. We live in odd times!
If our Prime Minister had guts, intelligence and objectivity she would take the line that Syria is a mess, there is nothing that we can do to make it better and therefore, with regret but with reason, we are adopting a policy of masterly inactivity.
If you’re reading this in Damascus, now would be a good time to invest in a helmet and start digging an air raid shelter.
If you are a UK voter, weep.