Leading article: Impotence is the price of a reckless foreign policy

Western political capital has been fruitlessly expended in the Libyan imbroglio

Share
Related Topics

William Hague could not have expressed himself more clearly: military action against Syria, he said, one day after the tanks and snipers of the Syrian security forces killed more than 140 protesters in the city of Hama, was "not a remote possibility", even in the unlikely event of the United Nations authorising it.

The Foreign Secretary was only saying what has long been understood. The possibility of exerting pressure on regimes caught up in the Arab Spring uprisings varies from country to country, but in Syria it has always been minimal.

The sensitivity of Syria's position between Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel means that the consequences of a regime collapse there are far more unpredictable and, in all probability, destabilising than elsewhere. And if Bashar al-Assad has finally shed what remained of his moderate reputation and emerged in the same bloody colours as his father Hafiz, the transformation should surprise no one: as a minority of only about 15 per cent in the Syrian population, the ruling Alawites, who also account for a large proportion of army officers, have their backs against the wall. They are fighting not only for their privileges but their lives. Yet there was something plaintive about Mr Hague's remarks nonetheless: "We want to see stronger international pressure all round. Of course, to be effective that can't just be pressure from Western nations, that includes from Arab nations, that includes from Turkey."

The fact that Britain can only appeal rather pathetically for nations in the region and beyond to do their bit reveals how much political capital has been fruitlessly expended in the Libyan imbroglio. When Nato attacks to secure a Libyan no-fly zone commenced on 17 March, it was hard to find anyone who thought it was a bad idea. Even the Arab League was cajoled into backing the action. Colonel Gaddafi was on the point of slaughtering the ragged opposition in Benghazi: the West stepped up to stop more civilians being killed, and the world applauded. If any sort of a role remained for the Middle East's former imperial masters at this late date, arguably this was it. But David Cameron's inexperienced government allowed its excitement at once again appearing a world player to get the better of its prudence. It woefully underestimated his stubborn staying power, overestimated the cohesion and the military capability of the opposition – and allowed the capricious urgings of President Sarkozy, busy inventing ways to distract attention from his problems at home, to be its guide.

The challenge now is less how to bring Gaddafi to justice than how to find a way of extricating ourselves from a conflict with no apparent solution with the least possible amount of shame and obloquy falling on our heads. As a result, Mr Hague can only wag his finger impotently at the Russians and the Chinese and the Arab League and urge them to do the decent thing over Syria. They, for their part, can quietly mock our folly and congratulate themselves on their good sense in staying well away. The idea of intervention justified on moral grounds looks more questionable than ever, and meanwhile Bashar al-Assad can proceed with his murderous crackdown with little fear of obstruction from the outside world.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture