Saturday, 14 April 2018

Why not in 2013?

We woke up this morning (at least those of us who did not stay up all night listening to the World Service) to the news that bombing/cruise missile strikes had been made by France, the UK and the US on sites in Syria. Even before the latest reports of chemical weapons being used against Syrian civilians, many people were saying that parliament was wrong in 2013 not to authorise military action then. Those voices are clearly going to be louder now.

The answer is twofold in my opinion. Firstly, the West has been able to identify the sites where Syria has been manufacturing its chemical weapons and storing their precursor chemicals. (We may even have the despatch address for the latter, thanks to UK firms helpfully supplying Syria with the requisites.) In 2013, that was not the case. Indeed, in the key Commons debate, the then prime minister David Cameron in proposing approval for the principle of military intervention admitted that "The case for ultimately supporting action [...] is not based on a specific piece or pieces of intelligence."

Secondly, any strike then would clearly have been directed at Assad's military bases. Anything less than knocking out all or most of the airfields housing the means of delivery would have been no more than a gesture. If meaningful, it could have left the Assad regime vulnerable to a takeover by Daesh/ISIS who, it should be remembered, were then very strong and controlled much of Syria. Short of openly declaring an aim of regime change and putting our own troops in - which the British public would not have been happy with - there was a strong likelihood that the dictatorship of the Assad family would have been replaced by something far worse. Just ask the Christians and the Yazidis.

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