As reported in the Yorkshire Post:
“An Arabic country gripped by civil war. A totalitarian ruler who would stop at nothing – even the massacre of his own people – to hold onto power. Parliament summoned to vote on whether or not Britain should send troops to help the rebels’ cause.
That was almost two-and-a-half years ago, and the country in question was Libya. Back then, MPs overwhelmingly supported a UN-backed plan to enforce a no-fly zone over the north African country. This action saved countless lives and brought to an end Colonel Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship.
Yet, two days ago, Parliament rejected the whole idea of British military intervention in Syria, another war-ridden Arab country with a vicious dictator.
Why have MPs voted so differently in two such apparently similar situations?
When the Prime Minister wanted to send British forces to Libya, most MPs supported him because there was a clear moral imperative to intervene. Gaddafi’s forces were closing in on the last rebel-held areas, and would have massacred everyone they found.
If we had not acted, thousands of lives would have been lost. The reality is that, in Libya, military intervention could make things better. In Syria, military action would only make things worse.
The Syrian regime is undoubtedly evil, but that was not why Parliament was asked to support military action. The debate in Parliament was only called because reports emerged that President Assad has killed hundreds of civilians with nerve gas.
The use of chemical weapons is a monstrous crime, but it is not the first such terrible act in Syria’s civil war. Pro-Assad forces have been shelling, bombing and shooting their opponents day in, day out for over two years.
More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed. They have died from dismemberment, burning by napalm, being crushed in falling buildings, from untreated gangrene and in the countless other horrible ways caused by conventional weapons.
Dying like that is no less unpleasant than dying from a chemical weapons attack. That is why, when the Government announced it wanted to intervene in Syria, many people found themselves asking, “Why now?”
Then there is the question of the evidence for intervention. Both the British and American governments claim that only Assad could have carried out chemical weapons attacks on the scale seen in Syria.
They may be right, but the evidence is not conclusive. Even the Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee admits it cannot understand why he would do it. The Syrian President has the upper hand in the civil war and enjoys the support of Russia and Iran.
Why would he use chemical weapons when he knows full well that such action could draw America into the war?
That has raised questions about how much Assad knew about the gas attacks. It is alleged that US spies have intercepted phone calls, made shortly after the gas attacks began, in which a panicked Syrian Defence Chief was heard demanding to know why one of his army units had used chemical weapons.
This could suggests that the attacks were ordered by rogue or panicking officers without the knowledge or permission of Assad or even his senior military commanders.
Alternatively, the Syrian rebels themselves could have launched gas attacks with the aim of dragging Britain and the US into the war.
The Joint Intelligence Committee gave this idea short shrift, but it is a real concern. Turkish authorities recently arrested a dozen rebel fighters who were found to be carrying 2kg of toxic sarin gas, and some pro-Assad fighters have been hospitalised with injuries typically caused by chemical weapons. It is worth remembering that while Assad’s forces have committed some terrible atrocities, the rebel ranks also contain ruthless fighters willing to commit torture and murder in pursuit of victory. The last thing we want is for Britain to be conned into conflict.
Last Thursday, the Government talked in terms of “punishing” Assad for his crimes.
Whatever this means, it is a bad idea. First, Syria boasts a more powerful military than Colonel Gaddafi ever had, and could respond to air strikes.
Second, even the precision-guided missiles that British forces could have used against Syria are not always as accurate as advertised. In previous wars, a significant number of them missed their target. By attempting to punish Assad, we could have ended up killing yet more Syrian civilians.
What is more, any military intervention in Syria will have ramifications throughout the Middle East. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has supplied Assad with anti-aircraft missiles since the outset of the civil war in order to prop up the Syrian Government.
If we began destroying Syrian military targets, the flow of weapons from Russia to Syria would double. Everything we destroyed, Putin would replace twice over. In this way, so-called “punishment” raids could intensify and extend a war that has already caused so much suffering.
It is always uncomfortable to see your own Prime Minister face defeat. In trying to get Parliament’s support for action against Syria, David Cameron was motivated by a desire to prevent the massacre of innocent civilians. His motives were faultless, but the strategy was flawed.
I am not opposed to military intervention in principle, but it must be clear what that intervention is designed to achieve. First and foremost, the aim must be to help those who are suffering. Taking sides in the Syrian civil war will not do that.
With UN investigators still gathering evidence in Syria, and the available intelligence far from conclusive, Parliament was right to reject military action.
A decade ago, Britain went to war in Iraq on the basis of a dodgy dossier, evidence copied and pasted from the internet, and false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Rushing into another Middle East conflict armed with half the facts is a mistake we were right not to repeat.”