After seven years of failing to act in Syria, we can audit where a non-interventionist policy has got us. It has been an utter catastrophe
Let’s cut the canting. No one thinks, not those ordering them and not those opposing them, that the missile strikes against the Assad regime will influence the outcome of the catastrophe in Syria. That pass was sold long since. If there was an opportunity for America, Britain and their allies to make a difference for the better, the chance was missed many, many deaths ago. What we are witness to – on the part of both the leaders of the western democracies and their critics – is a tableau of actors striking postures designed to make the players feel better about themselves. This posing can never rewrite the blood-drenched history of a seven-year conflict that has turned Syria into a charnel house and shredded international norms about the conduct of war.
The proximate cause of this crisis is the chemical attack on Douma last weekend. After years of unmasterly inactivity by the democracies, it is that atrocity that drew attention back to what is happening in Syria and finally stirred punitive action against Bashar al-Assad. In the words of the ineffable Donald Trump, the retaliatory strikes are supposed to demonstrate to “animal Assad” that there is a “price to pay” for the dictator’s use of banned weaponry. In the more measured language of Theresa May, “we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to be normalised”. Yet the normalisation of chemical weapons is precisely what has already happened in Syria. Assad’s regime has time and again used chemical warfare to slaughter its own people, as it has also deployed hideous “conventional” weapons such as dropping barrel bombs and fuel-air bombs on civilian areas to inflict mass casualties.
While the non-interventionists have talked about talking, the Assad regime and its backers have been busy killing