For the sake of Syria, tread lightly

by Lee Butcher

In a sudden about turn Britain may well be heading into its second small Middle Eastern war since the Arab spring. It would appear that the use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale, a means of purveying death clearly far worse than the many others inflicted upon the Syrian people in the past two years.

What occurred in that attack in a Damascus suburb was an atrocity, indeed, perhaps even a crime against humanity? Our urge to help is a positive one, but it is an urge that needs to be controlled by sober analysis.

As in all cases of conflict and human rights violation the devil is in the detail. On Thursday the Government will have to detail to parliament what it feels we and our allies can do for the Syrians, and what our planning is for the ramifications of any actions that result. If that case cannot be made convincingly the breaks should be firmly applied to any march to war.

A number of reservations should be foremost in the mind of the parliamentarians. Firstly, what is the scale of our involvement? An Iraq style invasion is almost certainly out of the question, but will any involvement be limited to chemical weapons caches, or will it take the form of Libya and be a wide ranging operation against Syria’s air force, armour and artillery and will it include targeting communications and logistics infrastructure? If the latter than we can perhaps call it an enforcement measure against a certain form of warfare we disagree with, if it is the former the aim is clearly regime change.

That latter aim presents a number of problems, all of them already highlighted. If Assad goes who takes over? What contacts with and what confidence do we have in the rebels? In order to avenge one atrocity (the results of which no amount of military action can now remedy), and presumably in order to stop likewise happening again, we must consider any potential, and unintended, consequences.

Should the balance of power be tilted in favour of the rebels the international community needs to become concerned about those groups who remained largely in support of Assad, most notably the minority Alawite group. If by stopping one group being massacred we enable another group to be targeted the overall humanitarian impact will be neutral (that is to say, just as horrific as the present).

If the rebels do secure the upper hand we need, now, to be focusing on what happens next. History is replete with examples of groups united only in their opposition to a threat, should that unity fragment and the various contingent groups seek to secure their own interests a new form of conflict could emerge, one even more chaotic than and just as bloody as the one we are now witnessing.

On Thursday the prime minister will have to be open and honest with parliament about the assessments that have been made, and what contingency plans are in place for the various scenarios our involvement could create. Parliament must press for these details, long gone are the days when it was appropriate to take it on trust in the hope that the military, intelligence services and the Cabinet have key knowledge that we cannot know.

Parliamentarians must not be brow beaten by the press or the government into accepting the case for war if they feel the government have not sufficiently made a convincing case on the day; the assumption that we can do nothing but good needs to be avoided, and for the good of the Syrian people we need to tread lightly.

Lee Butcher works for a Labour MP, and he is a postgraduate history student at Birkbeck, University of London. All views presented are his own

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6 Responses to “For the sake of Syria, tread lightly”

  1. swatantra says:

    Nothing good would be achieved by sending a couple of missiles into Syria; it would be a futile gesture, and would not change one iota the way the Regime thinks or the the way Rebels behave.

  2. John p Reid says:

    What Swantantra said

  3. Ex-Labour says:

    Whilst what is happening is horrific and tragic we have to ask the question of ourselves is it really anything to do with us and should we take responsibility for policing other nations problems ? The obvious answer to me is no. The will be absolutely no good come of our intervention except to aggrevate the situation.

    As I write this there are a number of MP’s from all sides of the house that seem to be thinking the same way.

  4. Following recent hours’ spectacular triumph, Ed Miliband ought to use his Conference speech to promise to save what little remains of Sunday trading restrictions after Thatcher and Major, which is already declared Labour Party policy in this Parliament.

    To promise to renationalise the Royal Mail, thus killing its privatisation stone dead, because no buyer would take the risk.

    And to promise to take each of the rail franchises back into public ownership as it came up for renewal, thus renationalising the railways at no cost.

    All while demanding a straight In-Out referendum on the day of next year’s European Elections, which only the Government could deliver.

    At that point, even if it were not already, as some of us maintain that is and that has now been for years, then the paleocon case for endorsing Labour at the next General Election will become unanswerable.

    It will then be over to Stephen Glover, Max Hastings, Philip Johnston, Peter McKay, Peter Hitchens (who has already been on record for a year that he will endorse any party committed both to the Sunday trading point and to rail renationalisation), Tim Stanley, Freddy Gray and all the rest of them.

    They have done sterling work on Syria. The electoral consequence of their position is now obvious.

  5. swatantra says:

    From my daily Dodds Bulleitin:

    ”With both Labour and an estimated 70 Tory MPs (see today’s Guardian) opposing immediate action in Syria, David Cameron had very little choice but to row back on his vote for intervention in the country’s civil war. Having just recalled MPs back to Westminster during recess, it’s no wonder a Government source told the Times that Ed Miliband was seen as a “f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***” in Downing Street.”

    Language worthy of Malcolm Tucker /Alaister Cambell, after an interrupted holiday in the Bahamas and a call to arms.
    Wonder who blinked? and cried ‘Chicken’! first?

  6. Ex-labour says:

    @david Lindsay

    Leaving aside yet another arse lick comment for Miliband from you, have you responded to the right blog ?

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