It could be that by the time this article goes to press, a strike has already taken place on Syria by a conglomerate of forces, led mostly by the US and France. It could be that it has not. The decision to do it, one way or the other, is beyond the purview of the author of this piece; that will be decided in rooms far, far away from Syria’s shores, and will have little to do with the hopes and dreams of the Syrian people fighting for a free Syria, beyond the clutches of the butcher of Damascus, Bashar Al-Assad. What some might want to consider, however, is how people beyond Syria actually feel about the strikes going forward and the various contradictions and remaining questions that are making the rounds, including in my fair land of the United Kingdom, particularly after the British parliament sent a clear message to the Prime Minister.
Allow me to be clear about my enthusiasm for a military strike on Syria: I do not have any. At the best of times, I do not relish the prospect of modern warfare with the weaponry available to the world’s arsenals. Invariably, people die who had little or nothing to do with the stated reasons for the attacks. Sometimes, military action may indeed be necessary, but to savour the opportunity to partake in modern combat is akin to enjoying collateral damage.
With regards to Syria in particular, military action does not merely involve collateral damage; it introduces consequences. Military action that leads to the overthrow of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime would result not in a sustained peace, but a new war before any peace was likely. That war would be aimed, in all likelihood, against the Alawites of Syria, but also Muslims and Christians, carried out by the radical extremists by the likes of Jubhat al-Nusra. That, unfortunately, appears to be a foregone conclusion after the policies of the last few years by the Syrian regime, neighbouring countries and the international community at large.
Of course, overthrowing Al-Assad’s regime is not the point. At the moment, the military strikes are aimed at sending a message to the Syrian regime, rather than overthrowing it. The international community, it is clear, has decided that an outright military victory for either the revolutionary forces or the regime is not really on the table. No one is interested in intervening to that extent; indeed, it seems that the international community is quite content to let the Free Syrian forces and the regime simply continue fighting each other. For what purpose, it is unclear. What is abundantly clear seems to be that any strike that takes place won’t be on the side of the Syrian revolution, or against it.
All of that makes any enthusiasm one might have for military intervention in Syria rather paltry. Yet, one would be hard placed to have sympathy for the ‘anti-interventionist’ position that many in the UK are currently exhibiting in the national press and among the political elite. The spectre of the Iraqi debacle, and the misrepresentations that were made to Parliament over that invasion a decade ago, still hang over the national discourse like a dark, desolate cloud. Well, I remember Iraq, and I remember how while the Stop the War Coalition organised protests in London (the largest London had ever seen, and the largest that happened anywhere around the world at the time), I felt a mixture of pride and distance. The pride was due to the truly incredible mobilisation that took place on the basis of sincerely held principle for a people far, far away.
The distance, however, was rooted in the fact that so many Iraqis had suffered so much until that point and many of them were more than willing to entertain such an invasion over the continuation of the status quo. The world, and the anti-war movement, gave them two practical choices: the continuation of that status quo (which was sustained sanctions against Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s rule, causing great suffering to civilians) or an invasion. I wasn’t surprised many of them chose the latter, even while I did not support the war in Iraq.
Today, I feel a similar confluence of contradictions. On the one hand, I’m proud of the fact that our system of government has ensured, that the Prime Minister has been unable to proceed further as a result of a democratic vote, even though I doubt our MPs really knew enough about the situation at hand. When Egypt has a system where the legislature feels so empowered against the executive, it will be a great day. On the other hand, Syrians now face an absurd choice. It is not a choice, as some people try to insinuate, between ‘foreign intervention’ or not, because foreign intervention has been in place for years now. The support given to the Syrian regime by Russia is not ‘domestic’, nor is the active role of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, or Iraqi ones, that have been flocking to support Bashar Al-Assad’s government. If the argument against military involvement by the UK is to keep Syria’s conflict ‘domestic’ and ‘national’, well, that ceased to be the case many moons ago, and to argue otherwise is to insult one’s intelligence.
The absurdity of the choice Syrians face is actually the illusion of choice. Anti-interventionists on the British left seem to think that if they can hold Britain back from engaging militarily in Syria, they will have achieved a victory. It would not be because Syria would still be burning. Doing nothing, as some seem to think is the ‘solution’ in Syria, is no solution at all. On the contrary, it is an abject failure, and has led Syria to this point, with more than 100,000 persons dead, and the use of chemical weapons. Between a quarter and a third of Syrians are displaced, including 1,000,000 children, and Lebanon is dangerously close to re-entering civil war. The continuation of a status quo that maintains that is not a solution; it is cowardly and a disgraceful reflection of the impotence of the international community. The claims of the ‘red line’ being crossed are bizarre; it’s been crossed many a time already. The ramifications of that continuing are tremendous.
I do not pretend to know what is best to secure the success of the Syrian revolution: the promise of a free, pluralistic and just Syria. I am uncertain that these limited military strikes will have the desired effect, and I am unsure that there are no other courses of action that could be taken, if by different actors in the international community. But what I do have absolute certainty of, is that doing nothing is not a solution , and that the lives of more than a 100,000 Syrians, as well as the destruction of that beautiful country, is a shame upon the very concept of the ‘international community’. If the British anti-interventionist left, and all those around who now oppose military strikes had been be so energetic about trying to enact solutions for Syria over the last three years, perhaps there would be no need to mourn the deaths of so many now. Give the people of Syria a better choice than one type of madness over another.