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The Syrian paradox

2 September 2013

3:25 PM

2 September 2013

3:25 PM

Readers may be interested to know that I have a piece in this morning’s Wall Street Journal on the House of Commons vote last week on Syria. David Davis MP has a piece in the same edition making some broadly similar points.

For me the conundrum of Syria now comes down to one particular problem. That is one which the House of Commons stumbled over last week and which the US Congress is likely to stumble over in the week ahead. The West has now given ample warning to President Assad of its intention to strike at some point. President Obama has famously drawn a red-line over the use of chemical weapons.


The problem then is this. If any country carries out punitive strikes against the Assad regime they will undoubtedly and rightly be demonstrating the international community’s revulsion over the use of chemical weapons. But if the targets that are hit in the resulting strike are meaningful (government buildings, installations etc) then there is the risk that such an intervention could tip the balance in the Syrian civil war. If that balance is tipped and Assad is severely weakened or even falls as a result then whoever carried out the strikes will be at least partly responsible for what comes next. That is a responsibility which neither America, Britain, France nor any other Western power can handle and it is one which none of us wants.

So – and here is the imponderable – the only purpose of strikes must be to hit targets which are meaningless. As I say in today’s Spectator podcast that means something akin to President Clinton’s futile lobbing of missiles at an aspirin factory in Sudan as a response to the 1998 al-Qaeda embassy bombings in Africa.

As I say in the WSJ piece – I don’t believe that the military should be used for making gestures, but rather to exert power and punish enemies in as meaningful a way as possible.

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