The Prime Minister seems to see in the crisis that has overtaken Syria his own Falklands moment

The Prime Minister seems to see in the crisis that has overtaken Syria his own Falklands moment

 

The Prime Minister seems to see in the crisis that has overtaken Syria his own Falklands moment, a chance to play the statesman and even warlord on the world stage.

Almost everyone else, however, including the U.S. President, sees a hideously intractable situation in which we meddle at our peril.

Downing Street has told the media that we may expect to see Western cruise missiles launched against Syrian government installations within a matter of days.

Parliament is expected to be recalled to debate the issue today, which presumably means that air strikes may follow soon after.

Downing Street has not, however, indicated what the  purpose or expectations of  such strikes should be, save  to give President Assad a severe whacking.

We can all see that Syria’s leader is an evil and murderous dictator. It is probably true that he is using chemical weapons against his enemies.

Russia’s support for Assad lays bare the nastiness of the regime of President Vladimir Putin, who aspires to play the part of a pocket Stalin.

Deadly

But it is one thing to recognise the iniquity of the Syrian government and its allies, and quite another to entangle the U. S. and Britain in a military campaign of which it is impossible to foresee a happy ending.

All the options for President Obama and Europe’s leaders are bad, as everyone except David Cameron and the idiotic President Francois Hollande of France can see.

Syria is riven by warring factions, each holding chunks of territory. The Israelis have already mounted bombing raids in response to the intervention of the Hezbollah militias, their most deadly enemies. Iran has sent fighters to aid the regime. 

 

 

Activists say that somewhere between 200 and 1,300 were killed in the chemical weapons attack on Wednesday near Damascus. Syria has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons of any country

Activists say that somewhere between 200 and 1,300 were killed in the chemical weapons attack on Wednesday near Damascus. Syria has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons of any country

 

 

 

 

 

Evidence suggests Assad almost certainly used chemical weapons against his foes and innocent civilians in defiance of the global ban on such horrors

Evidence suggests Assad almost certainly used chemical weapons against his foes and innocent civilians in defiance of the global ban on such horrors

 

 

 

If the struggle drags on, as it probably will, the whole region could be drawn into strife.

 

The foremost reason Britain’s military, intelligence and diplomatic establishments have united to oppose intervention is that they do not believe any of the available options — notably air strikes and arms deliveries to the insurgents — will end the struggle.

 

They will merely keep the bloody game in play and possibly make it much worse by precipitating a showdown with Russia. Yet David Cameron and his young Turks have been fuming with anger and frustration for more than a year about what they see as an inescapable moral issue: how can civilised nations stand idly by, they demand, and watch Assad massacre his own people?

 

Their impatience for action has reached breaking point now evidence suggests Assad almost certainly used chemical weapons against his foes and innocent civilians in defiance of the global ban on such horrors.

 

 

 

As long as Putin remains committed to protecting the Syrian leader, it is hard to see how the West can take effective military action

As long as Putin remains committed to protecting the Syrian leader, it is hard to see how the West can take effective military action

 

It is plainly a blow to world order if Syria is able to defy this prohibition and get away with it.

 

‘Don’t you see the moral imperative?’ one of Cameron’s closest advisers demanded angrily of a sceptical soldier a few months ago.

 

Unfortunately, for the cause of justice and truth, loose talk about morality is a luxury grown-up governments cannot often afford to indulge.

 

What matters is what can be done realistically in Syria, a colossal mess in which there is little to choose for nastiness between the competing factions.

 

‘They’re all nutters,’ said one of the Government’s most sensible ministers — and a profound sceptic about intervention — at a recent National Security Council meeting.

 

The West faces the huge and probably insoluble problem that President Assad is the client and protege of Russia. 

 

 

 

All the options for President Obama and Europe's leaders are bad, as everyone except David Cameron and the idiotic President Francois Hollande of France can see

All the options for President Obama and Europe’s leaders are bad, as everyone except David Cameron and the idiotic President Francois Hollande of France can see

 

 

 

As long as Putin remains committed to protecting the Syrian leader, it is hard to see how the West can take effective military action.

 

Syria poses the same dilemma as does North Korea, under China’s guardianship.

 

Yes, these are monstrous regimes — the North Korean leadership has killed vastly larger numbers of its own people than Assad — but short of going to war with Russia or China, what can the West do?

 

In recent days, Downing Street has been talking with extraordinary freedom about launching missile strikes.

 

I hope President Obama sustains his opposition to military intervention in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution in support, which is wildly unlikely to happen

I hope President Obama sustains his opposition to military intervention in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution in support, which is wildly unlikely to happen

 

 

 

More than a few soldiers see  this sort of talk as a reflection of the almost childlike immaturity of some of those around David Cameron.

 

Most of the people at Westminster and in the media who are calling for military strikes against the Syrian government describe these as ‘quick, limited, clinical action’.

 

But what happens if they  fail  to halt Assad’s barbarities? What follows if the Russians and Iranians escalate their support for the Damascus regime?

 

A British military planner said a couple of months ago: ‘We can come up with 23 scenarios for how we get into Syria, but we don’t see how we then get out again.’

 

President Obama and his advisers have always recognised this problem much more clearly than Downing Street. This is why the Americans remain so cautious about armed intervention, which Cameron almost daily urges upon them.

 

Sensible generals always ask two things before getting stuck into any operation: What are our objectives and are they attainable? These questions are fiendishly hard to answer in respect of Syria.

 

For a start, while almost everyone in the civilised world agrees President Assad is a wicked man, few who know anything about the scores of insurgent groups fighting against him wish to see them replace him in power.

 

Not long ago, I received an email from an enchanting Syrian who was once our guide  on a holiday trip across his country — never, alas, to be repeated amid the wholesale devastation.

 

Brutalities

 

 

   

More from Max Hastings…

 

He is no friend or natural supporter of Assad, but he wrote in deep dismay about the brutalities committed by the insurgents, mostly enthusiasts for Al Qaeda.

 

‘Do the West’s leaders know who these people are?’ this guide demanded bitterly.

 

If the West was led by statesmen rather than mere political operators, they would see that moral indignation is not enough to justify wading into a Middle Eastern morass.

 

There is some excuse for France’s President Hollande, because he is recognised even by his own people as a buffoon.

 

He is ever eager for foreign adventures to salvage his rock-bottom standing at home.

 

But Cameron’s obsession with Syria, and appetite for risk there, baffles even some of those who have to work most closely with him. He seems to suppose that leading a charge against the Damascus regime will enhance his standing and electability with the British people.

 

In truth, it seems doubtful if even some brilliant and wildly unlikely success there will gain him a single vote.

 

We are in the throes of extracting ourselves from a failed intervention in Afghanistan, with another defeat in Iraq on the scoreboard.

 

It seems extraordinary folly to propose a new military engagement in which — to put the matter brutally and cynically — Britain has no national interest at stake whatsoever.

 

Dangerous

 

We are still recovering from what we now see as the disastrous Blair era, in which British pretensions to posture on the world stage cost us billions of pounds, hundreds of lives and substantial prestige.

 

Why seek once more to take a lead, to play the great power, when we are nothing of the sort?

 

It is, of course, a fine irony that Downing Street wants to play Boy Scout games with cruise missiles after presiding over the most savage proportionate defence cuts in modern history.

 

By the time this Government has completed its restructuring of the Armed Forces, the only warships a prime minister will be able to deploy will be confined to his bath.

 

I hope President Obama sustains his opposition to military intervention in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution in support, which is wildly unlikely to happen.

 

Britain cannot act, thank goodness, without American backing. U.S. generals are as unwilling as British ones to launch a terrifyingly dangerous military foray unless they see a much more convincing strategic rationale than is evident today.

 

The usual shocked media voices are delivering that familiar cry of: ‘Something must be done!’ But our political leaders are supposed to behave more responsibly than this.

 

When David Cameron became Prime Minister, I was among those who held out great hopes  for him. But he has displayed a lack of judgment, especially in foreign policy, that is deeply dismaying.

 

What is happening in Syria is ghastly, but so is much else that is going on in the world.

 

Britain and its allies should not seek to go there, with bombs or missiles or soldiers, unless we have a clear vision of what we hope to achieve — which today is utterly lacking.

 

 
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