In the exchanges of opinion as to the Syrian catastrophe with both sides holding a strong moral position we must hold fast to the historic fundamentals of British foreign policy. If British interests are not served by doing so we should not embark on war with any other State unless there is no alternative. Moreover while force with air strikes seems attractive on entry the exit can result in lasting damage to our influence – Iraq and Suez instruct us.
British interests demanded that Hitler should have been ejected from the Rhineland in 1936 before full rearmament. British interests demanded our intervention in the Falklands in 1982 as being under British protection. Our historical liberation of Libya from Italian rule and establishing of the monarchy that Gaddafi overthrew coupled with his directly hostile conduct to us provided some authority for our intervention. Stability of a more humane kind has resulted. Britain effectively created Iraq as a nation after the First World War under the Sykes-Picot agreement after we had ejected the Turks and we exercised direct influence through a “client” king. Saddam threatened our economic interests in Kuwait and in his
We can also readily see that a case could be made out for intervention in Zimbabwe as its founder. But what are our interests in Syria? Moreover if we intervene can we be sure we can withdraw should it become clear that intervention has either failed or requires further and massive military action on the ground? These are the hard questions which must be answered.
We have no such interests in Syria as require our presence in arms. Nor is the impact of the civil war in Syria in the region such as clearly to require our intervention to assist our allies Israel, Turkey and Jordan. However the case made for intervention is a moral one. It is said that we cannot stand by and witness the inexorable descent of the innocents in Syria into a hell of unimaginable cruelties and massacres. But such is the world created by fanaticism and tyranny everywhere. We delude ourselves if we believe that military intervention will create a better world for those for whom we feel such sorrow.
So far from this being so there are good reasons to suppose that the vicious civil war between the Salafi Sunnism and revolutionary Shi’ism, as sustained by Iran, will, if Syria collapses, burst out and engulf the large regions of the Middle East. We know that al-Nusra/al Qaeda are deeply interested in this outcome.
There are indeed States whose interests would be served by intervention in Syria. Such are the grouping of States in the Arab League. Turkey has been directly attacked. France was the dominant foreign power in Syria prior to it becoming an independent nation. For us, however, the exercise of democratic restraint on executive military power may have been a greater service to the cause of human freedom that anything its use would have achieved.