Airstrikes Alone Will Not Solve the Syrian Crisis

Given the last two decades of failed interventions it is easy to understand why the majority of Britain is opposed to the recent intervention in Syria.

As liberals we must do all we can, as internationalists, to maintain peace around the globe. But also as liberals we cannot allow such abhorrent crimes to continue to be committed by the Assad regime. The silence of our inaction would have been deafening; five years of ignoring the conflict has led us to where we are today.

The scars of the Libyan intervention are still in the recent memories of the West, and conflict still plagues the nation, but our failures there cannot deter us from upholding our moral commitment to prevent war crimes and holding those who commit them to account. The Pro-Assad propaganda, backed by Russia and elements of the Labour party, are toxic: they stand in the way of any meaningful resolution in Syria, and more civilians will die if their interpretation of the war enters the mainstream of political thought.

We must look to our past if we are to make sure that we leave Syria a better place than it is now. The airstrikes are a short term solution, but they are only limiting Assad’s ability to launch another chemical attack, a noble cause but not a path to peace.

Libya, for however bad it is today, was an example of a very effective intervention. The no-fly zone was cheap, led to few civilian deaths, and directly led to the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Where NATO failed was not in the initial action but in the failure to maintain a presence and support the young and emerging democracy.

However risqué a no-fly zone would be in Syria, it would end Assad’s air superiority. The only thing standing in our way is our phobia of Russia, who has shown now to be all bark and no bite.

Airstrikes alone are not enough, we must level the playing field in Syria and offer the rebels are real chance of victory by offering support for the Syrian National Coalition, providing that they distance themselves from Islamist paramilitaries and groups that too have committed war crimes.

Our long term goal must be regime change, otherwise we are not stopping the slaughter of civilians, we are just changing the weapons used to kill them.

* Ryan Priest is the chair of East London Young Liberals.

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17 Comments

  • To do anything outside the aegis of the United Nations is naive in the extreme. Britain ceased to be the World’s policeman many years ago and I’m sure Putin trembles in his boots every time someone mentions the East London Young Liberals.

  • …………….Libya, for however bad it is today, was an example of a very effective intervention. The no-fly zone was cheap, led to few civilian deaths, and directly led to the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Where NATO failed was not in the initial action but in the failure to maintain a presence and support the young and emerging democracy…..

    What? The country with the highest average standard of living in Africa has been reduced to a faction strewn land where people traffickers and other criminals act with impunity…Sorry, but further words fail me.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Apr '18 - 2:26pm

    Military action won’t solve the problems of Syria. Only talks without preconditions between all parties will do that. At the end of the day conflicts are resolved at the negotiating table. If the last 20 years have taught us anything it is that Western (or Russian) military action in the Middle East only makes matters worse.
    What is needed is not further bombs or missiles, but a total ban on weapons sales in the region, freezing of all relevant bank accounts and using diplomacy to get people to sit down together and discuss peace.
    And of course all of this through the UN

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Apr '18 - 2:45pm

    This seems to me the epitome of failing to learn the lessons of the past. Every single time we embark on military adventures in foreign countries we claim it’s going to be different this time … it never is, and why would it be?
    It also doesn’t matter how many times you say “as liberals”, there’s nothing especially liberal about what you’re proposing (witness the cast of supporters) nor any particular obligation for liberals to support it.
    At the point where Russia is dismissed as “all bark and no bite”, all credibility is lost: this is like a child (or dare one say, a US president) tweaking the tail of a bear and when finding they still have a hand, saying “See, no problem” as they reach for a more sensitive part of the ursine anatomy…

  • Steve Trevethan 19th Apr '18 - 3:32pm

    As Librals/liberals we should follow the basic premise of first do no harm/the minimum of harm.
    The allegedly benign interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have all followed the moves of those nations away from dollar based trading.
    So many of their citizens have suffered death, dismemberment, dementia and dispossession for the benefit of a few.
    The recent choreographed attack on Syria has resulted in the share price of arms manufacturers increasing markedly. Who might have lots of such shares?
    Being Liberal/liberal involves dealing with researched realities more than being manipulated into manufactured compassion.

  • “However risqué a no-fly zone would be in Syria, it would end Assad’s air superiority.”

    A ‘no-fly’ zone in Syria? This often comes up, but few seem to realise there already is one – not Assad’s of course but a Russian one that covers most of the more populated parts of the country.

    For background on the recent missile strikes, I suggest a recent guest post on Colonel Patrick Lang’s blog, popular with military types and an excellent source for informed discussion – as in the post linked below. You will see the contributors most certainly do NOT consider Russia “all bark and no bite”

    Col Lang is a highly decorated retired US Special Forces officer, member of the Defence Senior Executive, Vietnam Vet, Middle Eastern specialist and professor of Arabic. In short, he knows the military and the region well and anything he allows on his blog should be taken very seriously.

    http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2018/04/trumps-big-flop-in-syria-by-publius-tacitus.html

  • Geoffrey Payne 19th Apr '18 - 7:14pm

    There is a lot I could comment on here, but I really think it is about time we recognised that as far as Libya is concerned we made a horrendous mistake. The criteria should not simply be one of how many lives did we lose. It should be did we leave the place in a better condition than when we intervened. And the answer to that question is surely not. The country is in chaos and has become a major source of refugees.

  • John Marriott 19th Apr '18 - 8:56pm

    Air strikes on their own never did solve anything. The problem is that the ‘state’ of Syria, like most of the other ‘states’ in the Middle East is a 20th century construct – and I include Israel as well as probably the only ‘democracy’ as we understand the term.

    As I said in several previous threads, we can point the finger of blame to the machinations leading out of WW1, where Britain and France largely carved up what was left of the Ottoman Empire, with one eye on the oil resources that the region offered, which were becoming increasingly important in fuelling their economies.

    Artificial states like Syria are always going to be prey to authoritarian government. Even relatively well established states such as Turkey and Egypt now appear to be going down that road. Add to the mix radical Islam and you can see why the order has broken down.

    So, how do you sow the seeds of democracy in the Middle East? Perhaps you shouldn’t, or at least in the form we in the West understand it. As I said before, it might be easier to let the current Assad regime win, particularly as the opportunity to influence affairs in the area, which Russia at the time appeared to support, has gone. The so called ‘rebels’ are a motley crew, some of whose motives you really do have to question.

    Should we therefore wash our hands of the whole thing? As one of the nations whose activities a hundred years ago helped to produce the mess the Middle East is now in, of course not!

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Apr '18 - 9:01pm

    Geoffrey Payne
    Absolutely right. Indeed, even looked at entirely in the light of national self-interest, the Libyan intervention was disastrous for the UK and for Europe as a whole; and who could possibly argue that the Libyans, or Africans generally, are better off as a result? I’m a firm sceptic about conspiracy theories, so I don’t accept the implication of Steve Trevethan’s post that arms companies are manipulating events in order to boost their sales and profits – but I quite agree that in practice they’re the main beneficiaries.

  • An emotive, moralising article in which I could not disagree more with its dreadful prescription.
    “The Pro-Assad propaganda, backed by Russia and elements of the Labour party, are toxic:” Jingoistic virtue-signaling is far more toxic, as will cause the war to drag on even longer and slaughter far more Syrians- especially those millions who support Assad.

    “as liberals we cannot allow such abhorrent crimes to continue to be committed by the Assad regime.” As liberals, are we meant to pick and chose which group we approve of killing, and allow a far greater number of the Syrian population to be killed instead?

    “we must …..offer the rebels are real chance of victory by offering support for the Syrian National Coalition, providing that they distance themselves from Islamist paramilitaries and groups that too have committed war crimes.”

    Dear Ryan, there aren’t any such groups. You will have better luck in finding Unicorns exist. Heck, the Obama administration certainly spent money in trying to find such people before giving up and settling only on the Kurds. The Kurds and the SDF and YPG, supported by the west, and sometimes Russia, are neutral to the Syrian govt and enemies of all other rebel groups, but classed as terrorists by our NATO ally Turkey. But they aren’t in the Syrian National Coalition, which represents the Syrian population as much as Chalabi and his “Iraqi National Congress’ claimed to represent Iraq and urge the invasion of Iraq. (When Iraq held elections, he and the INC got less than 0.5% of the vote)

  • “Airstrikes alone will not solve the Syrian crisis”
    Neither will sending in British ground troops, although there are a few operating there.
    Any intervention should have the authorization of the United Nation however such an authorization is unobtainable in the present situation.
    The airstrikes are a recognition that Assad is staying in power and should not abuse that power.

  • So called “liberal interventionism” in the ME has been one failure after another, leaving behind nothing but rubble and chaos. There is also very little public support for continued military involvement. Really this end-of-history inspired folly has been every bit as pointless as the Vietnam war was, to the point where It has become easier to sanction token airstrikes than to go public and admit that the West has basically lost whatever war we were told we were fighting in the region. IMO, we’re i now in Nixonian bombing-to-save-face stage of strategic withdrawal.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Apr '18 - 12:13pm

    I really don’t see any Liberal justification for trying to obtain regime change in any country other than our own and that would be through the democratic process. We had a civil war centuries ago and were fortunate that there were no super powers around to interfere even with the best intentions. I don’t want people to suffer in the way that ordinary people are suffering in Syria but I think what we should be doing is helping those who have escaped live decent lives even if they are in refugee camps rather than spending huge amounts of money on bombing or invasion.

  • Glenn
    ” IMO, we’re i now in Nixonian bombing-to-save-face stage of strategic withdrawal.”
    The bombing brought the North Vietnamese to the table in Paris to sign a peace treaty.
    Who can forget Madame Binh? Still alive I believe.
    (The Americans didn’t help their South Vietnamese allies two years later)
    ( years after that the Vietnamese were demanding the airport tax be paid in American dollars)

    Sue
    Britain has given millions in foreign aid to Syrian refugees. Jordan cannot shoulder the financial burden. In recent days a smaller number of Syrian refugees have returned from Lebanon.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Apr '18 - 7:38pm

    Anyone who thinks air strikes will change things in Syria should think again. Why can’t Assad be charged with war crimes? We should be freezing his and his associate’s assets.

  • Ryan – “we must level the playing field in Syria and offer the rebels are real chance of victory by offering support for the Syrian National Coalition”

    I totally disagree. A “level playing field” is the worst possible outcome for ordinary people in Syria as it just prolongs the conflict.

    What do you want to achieve? Do you want regime change, or do you want to minimise loss of life?

    The inconvenient truth in almost all of these situations is that the way to minimise loss of life is for one side to win, quickly and decisively, even if the “winner” is an unpleasant and brutal regime that we don’t like.

    What usually happens is that various outside interests intervene to stop their chosen side from losing. So we have the West, Russia, Turkey and the gulf states all backing different factions, and the result is the civil war drags on and on. And as it does so, ordinary Syrians keep on dying, if not directly from military action then from disease and malnutrition as the country’s infrastructure is destroyed.

    You may not like it, but the only credible “winner” right now is Assad. How many extra thousands of Syrian deaths are you prepared to accept to stop that from happening?

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