If you don’t know the answer don’t ask the question

What on earth is the West’s strategy in relation to Syria. Following the defeat of the executive in Britain, President Obama is setting things up for a rerun in the US. Congress cannot agree the time of day at the moment. The idea that they will vote for a strike to degrade Assad’s chemical weapon capacity is at best optimistic.

Congress might be persuaded that the credibility of US foreign policy is at stake and that it will undermine their authority globally, far beyond the issue of Syria, if they vote against the President on this key issue. If they do vote for it however, it will be on a motion so restrictive that Obama will have no room to respond to whatever the consequences are.

If they vote against it and Obama stands the troops down what will the consequences be? Too awful to contemplate for the opposition forces and civilians in Damascus. Whilst Assad is clearly a man with little regard for world opinion not knowing what the West would do will have stayed his hand, even if only slightly. When the West declares they are going to do nothing then nothing will stay his hand.

David Cameron has displayed a spectacular level of incompetence. He neither developed a compelling rationale for action nor managed his party in the division lobby with ministers allegedly missing the vote. He is now attempting to transform a humiliating defeat into a triumph for democracy. It is not. It has made an awful position a whole lot worse. Even having seen the mess in the UK President Obama is set to compound the problem. The decision of the UK to step back from taking action damages the credibility of our foreign policy. If the US steps back it damages the credibility of the West.

It is impossible to imagine circumstances in which Syria is going to end well. What is more it is set to ignite conflicts beyond its borders in the Middle East which looks more dangerous than it has for a long time. Beyond this the superpowers are banging up against each other. With all this it is highly unlikely that the West and the UK will not be forced to engage in the region in the not too distant future. It is a holy mess which it is impossible to see a way out of. I do not know whether now is the right time to intervene and whether intervention would have the desired effect. I am absolutely certain however that threatening to intervene and then withdrawing is the worst of all possible worlds.


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