Opinion… Syria: what do we do now? And as importantly, why? (Part 2)

In part 1, I looked at where the Syrian uprising came from and argued that we should not be afraid to ‘pick a side’. This time I want to review the failures of the UK’s current policy (or lack of one).

It’s probably uncontroversial to say that most of us would have wished for the Assad regime to hold elections, release its grip on power and transition peacefully to democracy. And that as a fallback option, many of us would have been happy with a negotiated pact between the regime and the opposition, along the lines of what was more or less achieved in Yemen, and which brought about some positive changes and headed off state collapse and civil war (which could have dwarfed the ongoing conflicts in the north and the south). The outcome of the war in Libya was less than ideal (if not perhaps worse than we had any right to expect), and it was understandable that we and the other western powers would want to avoid getting entangled in a much more complicated war in Syria – one which given Russia’s attitude would have lacked the legitimisation of the UN Security Council.

It should however have been clear to us early on that, even if Russia could have been persuaded to play a constructive role – as did once seem a possibility – the Assad regime viewed its options as total victory or annihilation. While as democrats we probably had no choice but to pursue the diplomatic efforts of Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, however unlikely they were to succeed, it should have been obvious that the Assad regime never understood these months of talks to be anything other than diplomatic cover for its attempts to re-impose absolute control.

Like it or not, we are a (middling) ‘world power’ with a UN Security Council seat, a military we have used abroad repeatedly, and a habit of talking about international events as though we have some influence over them and should be listened to. Inaction on our part therefore sends a powerful message. Inaction isn’t just a policy black hole (even if that’s what has caused it): it is perceived to be a deliberate strategy, or at best, as negligence.

While we have dithered, the things we apparently wanted to avoid have all come to be: the conflict has grown worse, generated millions of refugees, sucked in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Turkey and a swarm of global jihadists. The influence of the extremists, with the foreign money, weapons, expertise and dedication has grown from being nothing more than a figment of the regime’s propaganda to a deadly cancer on both the opposition and the region as a whole. They have already got their own propaganda victories, they have already bought or captured anti-aircraft weapons and put them to use and they have already it appears attacked targets in Lebanon and Iraq. If things continue as they are it is not unreasonable to suggest that either or both of those countries could plunge back into full civil war, or worse.

Our policy over the last two years has delivered us everything it was meant to prevent happening. I argued (in part 1) that there was a side we should support. It is now well past time we tried something new – actually supporting them. In the final part I will explain how we should do this.

This is the second in Jonathan Brown’s series of 3 articles. The first is here. 

* Jonathan Brown is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate of the Chichester Party and founder of the Liberal Democrats for Free Syria.

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2 Comments

  • Tony Harwood 28th Aug '13 - 8:35pm

    Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin neatly encapsulated Western policy towards the Middle East when he quipped: “The West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade.”

    The Lib Dem Leadership should perhaps take a break from cheer-leading absurd progroms against our native wildlife to read up on the consequences of past Western interventions in the region. Maybe then they will reflect upon how the interests of the Syrian people, the wider region and the the UK are really best served.

  • Sorry that part 3 could not be combined with part 2 … this leaves us dangling!

    Middle-ranking world power … exactly! – Increasingly, any military endeavour is beyond any one nation state (I can not see us mounting a Falklands campaign ever again … and sincerely hope that it will not be necessary), therefore alliances are essential.

    For better or worse we do have some important assets (but as in every double-entry accounting exercise, every asset engenders a liability) three come to mind:
    (a) historical global reach – as for example, embodied in the Commonwealth (the UK is an EU bridge to the wider world and an antidote to EU “Europeanism” – of course we undertook many heinous acts in the past in the name of the British Empire);
    (b) USA’s closest ally (double-edged sword of course); and
    (c) growing deep military relationship with our oldest bete noire – France.

    To be honest, Scotland leaving the UK (a right I respect, but pray and hope my Scottish brethren will vote to stay with us all in a UK), or even worse the UK leaving the EU, would undermine these assets. In addition, one of the main reasons that I oppose a like-for-like replacement of Trident, or even the Danny Alexander fudge, is that it would be so costly that it would undermine our capacity to fund the rest of the armed forces fit-for-purpose for the panoply of 21st century real security threats. As Centreforum puts it, we could end up as a “nuclear-armed Switzerland”.

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