A change of tone on Syria

Late last year, the appetite was far stronger and such a plan might just have worked


The sombre warning delivered to Congress by General Martin Dempsey, the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer, about the risks of increased involvement in Syria’s terrible civil war is a measure of how attitudes have changed in the US – the sole Western country whose intervention could tip the military balance decisively towards the rebels.

Late last year, the appetite was far stronger, as a potent alliance of Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta and David Petraeus, the former heads of the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA respectively, were all urging President Obama to step in. So too was General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Just conceivably, such a plan might have worked then. Momentum in the conflict lay with President Assad’s opponents, and although they were divided and poorly organised, radical factions were less prominent. Today, the case for US intervention is much weaker.

A strong danger exists that US weapons will fall into extremist hands, while serious military options such as a no-fly zone or major strikes against Assad forces would cost tens of billions and drag the US into a third Middle East war in little more than a decade – at a moment when the risk of a generalised Sunni-Shia conflict looms large. Not surprisingly, even General Dempsey has changed his mind.

However remote, the only solution to a conflict that has taken 100,000 lives and turned 1.7 million Syrians into refugees is diplomatic. The country is lurching towards de facto partition. While government forces have gained ground, and President Assad may now remain in office for years, swathes of Syria are likely to remain under the control of his enemies. The economic devastation, meanwhile, is incalculable.

The best hope still lies in the planned conference jointly sponsored by the US and Russia. Although the delays testify to the appalling complexity of the conflict, among myriad bad options, it is the only one that offers the glimmer of a chance to save a shattered country.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot