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i Editor's Letter: Britain's role in Syria. Military or political?

 

So the West – the US, Britain, France and various allies – are finalising plans to bomb Damascus within weeks, they say. War with Syria.

No one at Downing Street will go on the record, but officials in  Washington and London explain that they are no longer willing to watch atrocities unfold on the web. The Assad regime’s offer to let UN weapons inspectors visit the site of the chemical attack, now that evidence will have degraded, is “too late to be credible”, a White House spokesman said yesterday.

Western bombing would be a political move as much as military – about saving face, taking a moral stand. Proof, for Assad and his Moscow ally, that while the American-led bloc failed to intervene decisively in Syria early on, and has backed an inept and divided official opposition that has been marginalised by the more potent Islamist insurgency, it can still act.

Whitehall sources spoke of the decision to offer “a clear, concrete response from the international community to deter further outrages”. David Cameron is to cut short his holiday and return to Downing Street, although it is not clear that Parliament will be recalled. Britain may offer political rather than military backing for strikes. Without the ability or willingness to put boots on the ground, and with rebel forces divided, it will prove difficult for the West to shape the outcome in Syria by military means.

****

Europe’s biggest street festival, the Notting Hill carnival, begins a minute’s walk from my front door – where west London’s townhouses peter out into the estates off the Harrow Road. We woke yesterday to calypso, finding an armada of children dressed as jellyfish assembling outside. The street was transformed into a mêlée of feather-clad dancers, families, sizzling chicken stalls and entrepreneurial neighbours selling punch from their front gardens.

Second in scale only to Rio’s carnival, Notting Hill has been marred by violence – and today will be the crazy day, the huge crowds and raging music fuelling a party into the early hours. Yes, crime rises, it makes a heck of a mess and inconveniences a lot of residents (my cycle to the office included a three-mile detour). Hopefully tonight passes without serious incident. But carnival remains a family festival on the Sunday, and a chance for the city’s cramped youth to let down their hair. It also generates £100m a year for London.

If someone proposed staging a new Caribbean-themed street party for a million people which would bring the west of the capital to a halt, they’d be told where to get off. All the more reason to try to appreciate the one we have. I hope the 7,000 police officers on duty today have ample chance to enjoy themselves.

i@independent.co.uk

Twitter.com: @olyduff

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