Saturday, 12 October 2013

Syria: no, we are not better off now

With the infiltration of jihadist groups into Syrian rebel forces, it was only a matter of time before they responded to Assad's massacres in kind, as it now appears they did during August in some Alawite villages.

Back in our own country and the US, depressingly, rebel killings will now be taken as retrospective justification for, rather than consequence of, Western inaction.

Phew, everyone says. That just shows we were right not to "rush to war", eh? They're all as bad as each other.

But the flaws in this reasoning are obvious: first, because the message now sent to everyone, the rebels included, has been that crimes against humanity are perfectly ok, because they will result in no meaningful sanction. 

That lack of sanction is obviously going to have affected the thinking of the rebels. The UN's nascent doctrine of Responsibility To Protect, which includes war crimes and genocide prevention, lies in tatters.

For those of you who think that "meaningful sanction" includes a hopelessly flawed decommissioning process, which will inevitably involve negotiation about which sites may or may not be inspected (not to mention some being in combat zones, remember Iraq's "presidential palace" no-go areas?) and which many observers think will probably merely result in pushing the weapons over the border into Lebanon: good luck to you.

No, given that it is impossible to say how large Syria's CW stocks are, we can never know when they have all been decommissioned. Unless full cooperation is given, there can be no realistic possibility of preventing further use.

In a somewhat bitterly ironic example of the West slapping itself on the back, Norway's Nobel Committee has now moved to award the Peace Prize to OPCW, the organisation responsible for "decommissioning" said weapons. Which has not, for the record, even carried out any decommissioning as yet. One is not sure whether to laugh or cry.

The second reason is simply that the longer we go on with our "hands-off" approach to Syria and allow jihadists to gain the upper hand within the rebel forces, the more we create a fertile breeding-ground for forces who will inevitably turn hostile eyes towards the West if they win.

When will we learn that, where Islamism is involved, we have to get involved early and not late? That jihadists will naturally flock to any kind of flashpoint, in order to make hay while the sun shines?

We may well look back in years to come and ask ourselves why it was that we managed to lose on two fronts; not only that we let thousands of civilians be massacred, but also created the ideal conditions for a new generation of terrorists to boot.

If you think the latter statement alarmist or that it does not concern us in our "safe European homes", I suggest you read what MI5 chief Andrew Parker has to say: that increasing amounts of Five's casework concerns radicalised Britons who have gone to Syria to fight.

And that's if we can avoid being dragged into the conflict at some point anyway, far too late to do anything but damage limitation.

One post script: all this is notwithstanding massacres that can conveniently take place using conventional weapons. For the last few days, the Assad regime has been shelling a refugee camp full of civilians.

What a mess.

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