Not so long ago the Coalition government wanted us to vote for a war against President Assad of Syria. They were right that he is an unpleasant dictator, using excess force against his own citizens and failing to unite his country behind him. Some of us declined to support, on the grounds that many of Assad’s enemies were also people of violence, unlikely to bring good and fair government to the citizens of Syria. We did not wish to help bring down Assad by force, only to see something worse take his place. Without a strong moderate opposition and a winning political strategy for after the bombing it was difficult to endorse military action.
Now we read that the USA is thinking of co-operating with Russia, a power traditionally friendly to Assad and an opponent of extreme ISIL and related factions who oppose the Syrian regime. Mr Cameron says he still wishes to see Assad replaced if the west intervenes more on the side of the current Syrian government against the ISIL and related insurgency. I can understand why.
This viewpoint requires more thought over who could replace Assad, how they could create a m0derate and effective government for Syria and how they could find some unity of purpose between moderate Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions. The Kurds in the north will be looking for an independent Kurdish state. The Sunni groups will want reassurance that any new Syrian government will be fair between their interests and those of the Shia groups. None of this is easy politics.
Any UK bombing campaign would need to be planned in conjunction with troops from other countries on the ground. It would need help on the ground with identifying and checking targets to avoid loss of life of non combatants. It is difficult to see what extra the UK can bring to the long, vicious and tortuous Syrian civil war. UK forces should only be given tasks to do where there is a high chance of success and where their legal status is clear – unless our home country is under direct attack when you defend it come what may.
Meanwhile the US rhetoric towards Mr Putin has changed. He was a pariah when he exploited the western mistakes in Ukraine to take Crimea illegally. Now he is seen as a useful partner in Syria. He has been a critic of past western interventions which have so far failed to create peace and stability in several countries of the Middle East. Let’s hope this change of atmosphere between the great powers produces diplomatic and political initiatives that can achieve something in the cauldron that is Syria. This is a civil war that cannot be won by killing more people – it needs a political strategy for better government.