Despite the existence of other international crises, the civil war in Syria and its effects remain. Three years on from the beginning of protests against the dictatorial rule of President Assad, the original struggle for greater rights in a tyrannical state has morphed into an armed revolution.
The situation in Syria has been called the ‘greatest humanitarian crisis of our time’ by the United Nations. It is my belief that this miserable result is due, in whole or in part, to the inaction of Western governments – both in failing to intervene in order to remove Bashar al-Assad, a murderous tyrant who is perfectly willing to destroy his country in order to save the regime that rules over it, and in the lack of humanitarian assistance provided to the Syrian people after Britain, France, the United States and their allies meekly gave up on combating the brutality last August.
First, the lamentable lack of action from European nations towards stopping the horrors of the Syrian war, including the backing down of David Cameron, Barack Obama and Francois Hollande in the aftermath of the regime’s chemical weapons attacks on Ghouta last summer, inevitably prolonged the crisis.
After the Obama administration grandly called for a ‘red line’ over chemical weapons usage, it seemed as if the mechanised horror of such weaponry could be contained. As it happened, this pronouncement was utterly empty. Assad’s forces, backed by the UN veto, and covert military aid of a supportive Russia, publicly stepped over the line with impunity. And not just once. Der Spiegel exhaustively documented other instances of the use of chemical weapons. Tom Rogan in the National Review drew poignant attention to the use of chlorine gas by the regime.
The Assad government, happy to rid itself of its declared chemical arsenal, has continued to brutalise the population by other means. This is bad news for President Obama and his allies. Even an otherwise congratulatory New York Times leader acknowledges that ‘there are still questions about whether Syria retains hidden weapons and related technologies’.
However, after a sham deal, which included the foundation of ’peace talks’ in Geneva that everyone agrees are ineffectual, Assad was essentially left alone to perpetrate his crimes.
After the sound and fury of the build-up, silence reigned. All it took was a single parliamentary vote, and the leaders of the most powerful nations of the world gave up the pretence of caring about the fate of Syria and its people. Not when their electoral changes might be affected, anyway. And the fact that intervention was so unpopular also speaks volumes. It speaks of a populist mindset close to doctrinal isolationism, and the inherent national selfishness that such a mood creates.
In the aftermath of the failure of Britain and her allies to intervene, there has been another injustice. The fate of Syrian refugees is one of vital importance and powerful emotive impact, and yet the British government in particular has reacted very poorly to this tragedy. Having failed to win the war, Western governments, through either calculated callousness or administrative incompetence, are rapidly losing the peace.
In Britain, Ukip, a party which ran a not inconspicuous campaign against any intervention in Syria, has also made its opinions known on this most vital of humanitarian disasters. And those opinions are not good. After Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, appeared to support giving refuge in Britain to some of the world’s most needy, his party rebelled. Eventually, members and activists forced him into pledging to accept only Christians fleeing the country.
Happily, such naked discrimination met with criticism from across the British political spectrum; but outrage on this scale helped no one, and the number of refugees taken in by Britain and other European nations remains distressingly low. In Britain, only 24 Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter the country. To say that the government is dragging its feet, as refugee groups and the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, have done, is a grotesque understatement.
James Bloodworth, a British journalist, summed up the appalling state of the UK government’s response.
There’s a good chance that Syria will, for future generations, be considered the humanitarian crisis of our time. As such, the scale of the tragedy requires a much greater response than the callous and disinterested one shown thus far by the government.
But that failure is not just confined to the UK. France, a country that like Britain backed out of dealing with Assad militarily last year, agreed to accommodate only 500 Syrians; this from a total refugee population of over two million. The Hollande government is currently under pressure from organisations such as Amnesty International to take its fair share of Syrians. But regardless of whether the President caves in, his initial unwillingness to allow the victims of terror and intimidation and brutality shelter in his nation ought to be held against him from now on.
The failure of Western governments is particularly obvious – and shaming – when viewed in relation to the loads borne by the nations bordering Syria. In Iraq, a country that has more than its own share of problems at present, over 200,000 displaced Syrians find shelter. In Turkey the number is over 650,000.
This numerical failure is also a moral one. Having failed to combat the power of a despotic ruler who is busily engaged in hammering his opponents into the ground at any cost, the West now refuses to recognise, and act on, its own ethical obligations.
This dual failure points to a broader climate of non-interventionism and isolationism – which are two separate but interlocking phenomena. Both philosophies contain elements of the parochial and the selfish. Like it or not, those ideas – aided by the recent successes of the European far-right – are now closer to government than ever. Syria has already been abandoned to the brutality of a tyrant. To effectively mete out the same fate to those fleeing the conflict does the West, and the wider world, an enormous disservice.
James Snell is a Contributing Editor for The Libertarian