As a third, blood-soaked year of the conflict in Syria draws to a close, and with the number of estimated deaths continuing its ever upward climb, it is increasingly apparent that avoiding military action in the region was the wrong thing to do.
Far from being a moral decision by the West to avoid another ‘adventure’ in the Middle East, it appears that the lamentable lack of action in Syria has led to more bloodshed, not less. But not only that: this act of apparent international indifference has also made us, in the West, morally complicit in all the horror and brutality and misery that has occurred in the country since David Cameron’s meek admission of defeat in August.
Part of the blame for this tidal wave of national apathy is due to the awful influence of Ukip: the littlest England has no need to care a jot – or expend a pound – on foreigners, after all. As evidenced in the frankly disgraceful attempts to ban non-Christian refugees from Syria from seeking safety in this country, Ukip cannot be trusted to act on the basis of morality. With the BNP’s Nick Griffin actively (if rather shambolically) going beyond mere isolationism – actually taking the side of dictator Bashar al-Assad – it appears that the British far-Right have united to either oppose intervention or support those who would lose most should it come to pass.
The fact of the matter is that the crisis continues, unabated, despite the dramatic dropping off of public interest in the UK. The chemical weapons ‘settlement’ – incorrectly billed as a ‘diplomatic solution’ – has not done a great deal to achieve peace, or to stop civilian deaths. Such things still occur, with the Assad government using starvation ‘as a weapon’ in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian and Syrian refugees, and the increasing proliferation of brutal improvised weaponry, an example of which are the “barrel bombs” – explosive implements of death as crude as the name suggests – currently being dropped from Army helicopters on rebel positions.
Another worrying development in the crisis is prevalence of Islamist organisations within the fragmented opposition. These groups, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), motivated by the darkest forms of jihadi terror, create suffering, conflict and repression with their enforcement of Sharia in occupied territories.
As far back as December, the prospect of Islamic radicalism had loomed on the horizon. In that month the headquarters of General Idriss, a central figure in the more moderate opposition, were overrun by acolytes of the Islamic Front – another collection of fanatical rabble, wishing to fight a holy war. There have been beheadings, reprisals and many cruelties inflicted by this particularly pious section of the rebels, but Islamists were not always in the position occupy today. Horrors of this sort would not have come about had Britain and her allies intervened when the biggest rebel forces belonged to the Free Syrian Army.
In essence, non-intervention in Syria is no longer merely refusing to pick a side. What it represents now is a physical decision, real or contrived, to let the country burn. Not only that: those who stood by the sideline in 2013 have been tarred with the effects of the following months. Nations which failed to use their military pre-eminence to rescue the citizens of Aleppo, as they did for Kosovo, Kuwait and Benghazi, will be judged for it.
When the House of Commons voted to reject military action to protect the citizens of Syria from tyranny – both political and religious – MPs plunged this country, and the world, into the terrifying situation that exists in the region today. Non-intervention has cost Britain and NATO respect on the international stage; it has cost the region security and safety; and, most of all, it has cost lives: many thousands of which have been needlessly extinguished in the aftermath of the shameful national reflex to avoid our international moral obligations.
James Snell is Contributing Editor of The Libertarian