If President Obama’s idea of a fast and furious missile assault on the Assad regime was to have any chance of working it was best done quickly, in the heat of anger at the chemical weapon massacre.
Some might say revenge is a dish best served cold. In this case I disagree. I think in these circumstances revenge is a dish best cancelled. It would have been more understandable if it had been done immediately after the chemical weapon incident. US missiles could have hit more military targets more easily. Hot revenge is more passionate and maybe more forgivable than cold calculation. It would still have left open the three crucial issues of proof, legality, and the consequences.
Now Assad has had many days to hide and disperse his military high command, to replicate or shift computer and communication systems, and to place strategic military hardware in inaccessible places or close to those no-one should wish to harm. Anyone bent on revenge should not have too much of the Hamlet about him. A possible military action later this week or next still faces those very same big issues that the President doubtless agonised about, leading to his delay.
We still do not have incontrovertible proof of who was to blame. The UN still refuses to give legal cover to a military strike, so the legality rests on arguing that a strike will prevent a future atrocity. The US still cannot be sure how the regime and others will respond to a missile campaign, and cannot know just how much weaponry to let off to change the dictator’s actions without allowing a worse regime to take over.
In yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph I set out in an open letter why I think the US Congress should refuse to vote for military engagement. If the motion seeks approval for the use of force they should vote it down. Those of us who oppose the use of force by the UK are not appeasers, people wishing to turn our backs on the world. We are realists, who recognise that sometimes venting fury with missiles from a distance cannot remodel a dictatorship or ensure smooth transition to a working liberal democracy in a country as heavily armed and as divided as Syria.
The case against military action is that a limited volley of firepower is unlikely to make the position better, and could make it worse. Those who think the use of force is essential have a duty to tell the rest of us in general terms what is their military aim, how they think they carry it out, and why Syria will be a happier place afterwards. Bombs and missiles kill people and destroy buildings and equipment. The aim, I thought, was to protect the lives of more Syrians. The weapons would have to be very selective to kill just those who intensify the massacres, and to create all of a sudden a political dynamic in this war torn country that could assert peace. Where the west before has wanted to support or create democracy, in Afghanistan, it has had to expend much blood and treasure with many troops on the ground, fighting to impose and uphold freedoms that otherwise people would not enjoy. Why should Syria be any easier?