by Atul Hatwal
I recall speaking to Syrian friend last summer about the impending parliamentary vote on military intervention.
He had been one of his country’s leading surgeons, and a classical musician, appearing regularly on national TV. Until his dissent against President Assad had become a little too public. Imprisonment and torture by Assad’s secret police were followed by a lucky escape, both from Assad’s jail and a country degenerating into civil war, to seek asylum in Britain.
I’d expected him to be supportive of action against the regime. After all, it had taken everything from him and his family.
But all I found was despondency and, on balance, opposition to military action.
By this time last year, the primary threat to Syria was no longer President Assad. It was the rise of the Islamist militias and the collapse of secular centre in the opposition. We could bomb Assad. We could send him a bouquet of flowers. Both would have been equally relevant to the suffering of the Syrian people.
In summer 2013, the reality of life in Syria was that it was more dangerous to live in territory controlled by the Islamist militias than Assad.
The discussion that my friend saw unfolding in this country was facile and pointless. The knee-jerk opposition of much of the left to any intervention that involved the Americans – who, by coincidence are also the only country that can mount any meaningful humanitarian or military intervention – was borderline offensive.
Yet the position of the interventionists, although motivated by good intentions, was barely better informed.
Targeting President Assad’s military infrastructure with some limited bombing might have made the hawks in London and Washington feel happier, but it wouldn’t have helped Syrians living under Isil, the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Islamic Front or any one of the other dozen or so, hardcore jihadi groups.
And if this potential action had materially degraded the Syrian regime’s military capability, the threat of advances by the Islamist militias would have been all the greater.