Children pay for our failure over Syria

For too long we have sent mixed messages to the dictator in Damascus

Share

It is a grim milestone: two days ago, the UN announced that the number of Syrian children forced to flee their homeland has reached one million. They make up just over half of the two million people driven from the country, while another 4.25 million are displaced inside its borders. This means that the dictator Bashar al-Assad has forced more than a quarter of the population into internal exile or foreign camps, creating the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Whatever the outcome of the civil war, the repercussions will be felt for decades.

Also on Friday, the Foreign Secretary William Hague said he believed that last week's chemical attack on a suburb of Damascus was the work of Assad's forces. It is not the first time the regime has been accused of war crimes, and it is clear that the Assad family will stop at nothing to stay in power. They have ruled Syria with the utmost ruthlessness for 43 years, ever since Bashar's father Hafez staged a coup, and the response of the international community has been culpably weak and inconsistent.

When I first went to Damascus in 1994, Bashar had just been recalled from London after the death of his elder brother Bassel in a car crash. Bashar was an ophthalmologist but he soon began his training in the family business of torture and murder. Twelve years earlier, Hafez had committed a massacre in the north-western city of Hama after an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. Estimates of the number of casualties vary (20,000 is the commonly-used figure), but it bought the Assad family decades of "peace". Dissent was crushed by filling every corner of the country with government spies, and bundling the dynasty's most determined opponents into vile political prisons. A friend of mine spent 14 years in Assad's jails, where he saw many people die from the effects of torture.

All of this was documented by international human rights organisations. But Tony Blair welcomed Bashar Assad to London in December 2002 and even staged a joint press conference with him. I was so cross when I saw this weak-chinned killer being feted in Downing Street that I complained to a Labour minister, who told me the British government believed Bashar was an improvement on his father.

The chances of that seemed remote, and I'm also aware that cruel regimes tend to end bloodily. I hoped Western intelligence services were quietly making contact with the democratic opposition in Syria, but even that doesn't seem to have happened. A journalist who was seriously wounded in the current conflict told me he received phone calls from both William Hague and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, asking him who the opposition actually were.

What we're seeing now is the dire result of sending mixed messages to dictators. For decades, leaders of democratic countries overlooked massacres and held their noses as the Syrian regime tortured opponents and stockpiled chemical weapons. It was a huge failure of principle and intelligence – and now the price is being paid by one million homeless children.

politicalblonde.co.uk; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Production Technician is required to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer - Hosted Telecommunications

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for a Ne...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor / Partner - Cheltenham

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: A very rare high level opportunity with a fir...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor of electronics...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kanye West performs live at the Brit Awards 2015  

UK grime is finally getting the recognition it deserves, but why has it taken so long?

Paul Gibbins
 

Jihadi John went to my university – so what?

James Tennent
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower