Western leaders seem worryingly unaware of the risks of military involvement in Syria

Some form of Western intervention in the conflict looks imminent


Almost exactly a year ago, Barack Obama warned that if the Assad regime in Syria resorted to the use of chemical weapons in its fight with the rebels, it would have crossed “a red line”. Now some form of military action by the US, acting in concert with Britain and France, looks imminent following talks at the weekend between Mr Obama and David Cameron, when the two leaders promised “a serious response” to the carnage inflicted on a rebel-held suburb of eastern Damascus.

As the military chiefs of the US, Britain, France, Canada, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia descend on Jordan this week to decide the precise form of that response, we again step into the unknown, and it is hard to feel the slightest optimism about the outcome. If Western governments do try to knock out Syria’s air defences, one of the options up for consideration, strikes will be undertaken in the teeth of bitter opposition on the part of Russia and China, whose governments won’t be represented in Amman, and which don’t, or don’t want to, hold Bashar al-Assad responsible for the massacre near Damascus.

Russia will be furious that the West is against plunging into the Middle East without international agreement, and just as the regime said it would allow UN inspectors access to the site in question. But even assuming Russia’s anger is contained, or that Iran can be kept out of a field in which it feels a direct strategic interest, a bigger question is what military action can now hope to achieve in Syria, where war has been raging for the best part of three years with no end in sight.

Presumably the hope in Washington, London, Paris, Ankara and Jeddah is that the rebels will redouble their assaults on Damascus and finish Mr Assad off once they see the West finally show its teeth. The problem is that we still don’t know who “they” are. Now, more than ever, the rebels are united only in detesting Mr Assad. Beyond that, they remain hopelessly split between jihadist warriors who view supportive Westerners as useful idiots and mainstream Sunni opponents of the Alawite-dominated regime, all of which raises the question of how the US, Britain and France intend to help the rebels they prefer over those they fear.

It is also disturbing that none of those advocating the use of force to expedite the fall of the Assad regime seems to have given much real thought to what kind of society they expect to replace the one that has been in power for several decades.

The Prime Minister should beware the example of Tony Blair, who seriously thought that if he and the Americans got rid of a hated dictator they could install democracy in Iraq. We all know what happened there. If the plight of ordinary Syrians is worsened as a result of any new Western military adventure, undertaken for much the same reasons as the war in Iraq, Mr Cameron will have to accept his share of the blame.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own