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If you think arming the rebels is the answer, then you don’t understand Syria

20 June 2013

10:46 AM

20 June 2013

10:46 AM

The Spectator debate on Monday will no doubt pick up from Cameron’s statement to the House of Commons after the G8 meeting on Wednesday. It was wafer thin; so were his achievements.

The spin generated by Number 10 in recent days has verged on the absurd. On Tuesday, according to The Times headline, Cameron was ‘leading the West to ambush Putin on Syria’. Does anyone believe that this is the way to handle the Russians, let alone Putin? Nor, of course, did it happen.

By Wednesday we were being told that ‘The West tries to engineer a coup in Damascus’. No sign of that either.


By the time the Prime Minister appeared in the House of Commons he had come down to earth.  The agreement, we now learn, is to support a Geneva II process to deliver a transitional authority – a proposal that has been around for many months but that seems to have been delayed rather than accelerated by the deliberations of the G8.

At least this outcome is better than pumping arms into the rebels and we should be grateful that there was also a pledge from the Prime Minister not to take any ‘major actions’ without first returning to the House.

All this spin reflects a fundamental failure to understand the nature of the situation in Syria. Bashar al-Assad is a figurehead, not a dictator on the pattern of Saddam Hussein, or even his father.  If he were to leave for any reason he would be replaced in a twinkling of an eye by some Alawite general.  What some outside observers fail to realise is that the Alawites, having run a very tough police state for 40 years, simply cannot afford to lose power. If they were to do so, they believe that they and their families would be massacred. They may well be right.

On the other side, the rebels fear that, if the present regime were to be left in place, then the secret police would be after them in a flash and they too would suffer a terrible fate. Quite apart from this mutual fear there is, regrettably, now a deep seated desire for revenge by many of those on both sides who have suffered so terribly.

Let those who still think Western intervention could be remotely helpful in this dreadful situation make their case on Monday evening.  I suspect that they will struggle to do so.


Sir Andrew Green is the former Ambassador to Syria. He will be speaking at the next Spectator Debate on 24 June, debating the motion ‘Assad is a war criminal. The West must intervene in Syria’ with Malcolm Rifkind, Douglas Murray, Dr Halla Diyab and more. Click here to book tickets.


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