Danny Finkelstein writes in his column for The Times today that just because we are unsure about what the outcome and effect of any intervention in Syria may be, that is not reason enough to do nothing. Further to support his case for military intervention he suggested that those that argue against military intervention fail to grasp that the consequences of that approach are impossible to anticipate as well. In other words, quite possibly damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Well I certainly agree with the latter point.
I fully accept that I am no expert on the Syrian crisis, and the complexities of the region. I was not elected to Parliament by my constituents because of that or despite that, but this Thursday I will have to vote on a motion that will ask the House to support armed intervention in Syria. I can only listen carefully to the arguments and, hopefully the evidence put before the House and make up my mind accordingly.
But the argument will not be swayed by Burke’s much quoted assessment that ’All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ which has been used considerably recently. The question is surely, have good men done enough before sending in the military and could they achieve more before resorting to armed intervention?
For two years western governments have been predicting the downfall of the Assad regime during this horrific civil war. During that same time it’s not unreasonable to argue as Finkelstein does, that as he sees it ‘a policy of non-intervention has been a disaster’ as evidenced on the ground in Syria. Or perhaps more accurately a lack of effective international diplomacy has been a disaster and ironically to change the policy now to armed intervention having let the situation deteriorate so badly means that the risk is greater than it was at the beginning of this civil war.
The horrific use of chemical warfare has served not only to underline to what disgustingly low levels the conflict has sunk and humanity along with it, but also the impotence and diplomatic failure of the international community, UN included. The natural response of all decent men and women is not unreasonably ‘something must be done’ and presently that something looks like cruise missiles and ‘remote intervention’.
I am troubled however that a military ‘something must be done’ response does not carry the full support of military experts on both sides of the Atlantic. Here
General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British army, and Lord West, former First Sea Lord, have both warned of unintended consequences and that, bluntly, a military response cannot be relied on to succeed. As one American General remarked last week , this proposed action is little more than a ‘feel good’ policy unlikely to have positive real effect on the Syrian crises.
So when Parliament meets tomorrow I hope we get answers to questions. Not just on the evidence to justify and support such an intervention, but also the scope and aims of them proposed intervention. Further, what assessment has been done on the next steps? If regime change is not the goal, and this is an international response to the abhorrent use of chemical weapons so be it. Yet if chemical weapons are used again what next? Would we be asked to sign up to more armed intervention, boots in the ground perhaps? Is it conceivable that an armed intervention that fails to bring Assad to heel may provoke more atrocities to defy the western allies?
Burke’s quotation on evil is I agree timely,but I hope we also remember the often paraphrased quote ’If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them’.
The Middle East region is full of examples we should carefully take note of.
Nick de Bois is Conservative MP for Enfield North.Tags: Syria