I still don’t know. I’ve watched and listened as two polarised camps – both staunchly pro-intervention and those against – have thrashed it out in the media, especially following the vote in parliament on the issue.
When it comes to the vote, David Cameron’s government showed its usual ineptitude and depending on who you talk to, Miliband showed his opportunism/leadership, but politics aside, I’m left with more questions than answers.
1. Why now? Chemical weapons are so awful that there are international prohibitions against using them. And yet, the thousands who have died by bullet and regular bombs – innocent men, women and children – matter too. I realise that the “red line” is a useful political marker in the sand but in the face of the wholesale slaughter of innocents in Syria in the last two years it seems arbitrary. Nick Clegg claimed furthermore that chemical weapons have been used on 14 occasions previously. So, the 14 times are regrettable but 15 is just not on?
2. What will targeted strikes achieve? Assad is not above placing his weaponry in civilian areas, it’s not possible to strike without claiming more lives. How likely is it that military strikes will make the situation worse?
3. How can a diplomatic solution be sought while all talk is of the certainty of military strikes? In this sense, I’m glad for the UK parliament’s hesitation. I don’t know if it’s possible to do both at the same time. It appears, for the moment, that the battle is finely balanced and a negotiated diplomatic and political solution is the only one that will make Assad stop.
4. Is this about assuaging our consciences or about saving people? It seems like the West suddenly wants to be seen to be doing something when it’s still questionable how this will help ordinary civilians or stop Assad in his murderous tracks.
5. If Responsibility to Protect is a UN mechanism, how can a few states circumvent the UN to intervene on their own initiative? This means any state could do the same and international governance, such as it is, will continue to crumble if we don’t work within the framework.
6. How do we make the UN better? The US is right on one thing – the UN consistently fails, and it’s about time Russia and China were challenged on their continued obstruction. I sympathise with why the US wants to go around the UN, but this isn’t a permanent solution. I don’t think the US can afford to be world policeman. Nor can Russia and China continue to claim a place at the big boy table and sit on their hands.
I am glad that I don’t have to make the tough decisions and while I don’t agree with many of the parliamentarians, I’m glad for their caution. This is a grave decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And for those positively hysterical that UK is abdicating it’s place on the world stage – that may be so, but the UK can’t police every nation. Why Syria and not North Korea? Where do you draw the line? We have to make the UN work better. Secondly, those from the Tory camp who have mouths full of human rights when it comes to Syria but who champion the repeal of the Human Rights Act and withdrawal from European Convention on Human Rights – that’s a hypocrisy too.
But at the end I’m still left thinking of Syrians. No matter which way you cut it, they continue to suffer. How do we fix this?