South of West

A journalist in New York and elsewhere

Something must be done in Syria. But what?

I wrote this in September 2011, as the Libyan regime of Col Gaddafi collapsed, and calls for intervention in Syria began. At the time, the interventionists were on a high. But the conditions that made action in Libya attractive were very different to the conditions in Syria, for reasons I bullet-pointed…. (I have no link as the Telegraph blogs have disappeared)

• So far, with forces already at full stretch and committed to Afghanistan and (for now) Libya, there’s not much energy, cash or equipment left in the tank for another war

• The Syrian opposition has been adamant that they want to do it themselves. They don’t want outside help

• Intervention in Syria would be messy too. Hizbollah, Iran, Turkey and Israel would be just some of the actors brought into play. Libya’s conflict has been very much contained within its borders partly because Colonel Gaddafi had managed to alienate many would-be allies

• The Syrian opposition is nothing like as united as Libya’s National Transitional Council. Sunnis, Shias, Christians, communists all have a different idea about how to do things. Working with them would be a nightmare

• The Libyans had Benghazi and the east, with its border crossing to Egypt, in which to organise. The Syrian opposition has no such haven, which could be protected by Nato or used by special forces and visiting diplomats

With Aleppo now falling to Syrian government forces, the calls for intervention have begun again. Something must be done. And the bloodshed – and the fear of worse to come – is horrifying.

But what can be done? The mess was too complex in 2011, as I wrote then, and it has only become messier.

When British MPs voted against joining action against Bashar al-Assad in 2013 they did it for the very worst reason – to make amends for what happened in Iraq. Their motives were misguided. They weren’t discussing what was best for Syria. But it seemed to me at the time it was the right decision, ensuring that we did not contribute to making things worse.

And the same is true now. No fly zones, no bomb zones, humanitarian corridors all represent an escalation of the conflict. They must be policed and defended. To do that requires a commitment to bombing the Syrian regime, its air defences and military installations and raises the risk of a clash with Russia.

Something must be done. But what?

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