Belfast Telegraph

How spin and lies are prolonging the torment of Syria

By Lindy McDowell

They have been assailed by bomb and bullet, by chemical gas, and now, according to reports, by starvation. So as the beleaguered, butchered civilian population of Syria scan for signs of international intervention they will doubtless be comforted by the sight of leaders leaping to their aid.

In Barack Obama's case, seemingly, literally ... A picture of the shirt-sleeved Pres is released showing him on the phone, hand pistoling from his side, foot up on the Oval Office desk looking as though, any second now, he's about to vault it like Sally Gunnell.

What does this picture convey? Action man leader just champing at the bit for Congress to let him get on with things? Most powerful man in the world spending his every waking moment in crisis meeting?

Or, as one side-tracked internet poster has sourly sniped, a man with no respect whatsoever for Oval Office furniture?

The political posturing is not confined to Washington ... The day after the Westminster vote against intervention, Ed Miliband is pictured in his office. Again shirt-sleeved, he's poring over papers, pen in one hand, his head clasped theatrically in the other.

Portrait of statesman wrestling with major global challenge? Nah. Ed just looks like he's doing his 11-plus.

But this is what we have come to expect of our leaders in times of crisis.

When the going gets tough, the West gets posing.

The corpses of men, women and over 400 children flash up on our television screens trussed up in sheets, lain out in their interminable rigid rows, victims of one of the most evil and indiscriminate weapons of warfare.

And the West's response? To do what the West does best.

Hold meetings.

"Get in there now!" cries Tony Blair "peace envoy" and the man whose Dirty Dossier so corrupted the bond of trust between leaders and the people that the people no longer believe anything – anything – they're told.

Granted, spin was with us for many, many centuries before it manifested in the smirking latter-day form of Alistair Campbell. Truth was always the first casualty of war.

But there was a time when there was a sense that in the big things – and there is no bigger thing than the leading of a country into war – our leaders would not dissemble. Or, let us be frank, lie.

That ended with Iraq. Possibly the most damning aspect of this week's transatlantic machinations is the realisation that people post-Iraq no longer have any idea who or what to believe any more.

People are weary of war. Wary of being urged to war. Too many young lives from this part of the world have been lost – for what?

And yet ...

How can we stand back when chemical weapons are being used by mad Assad whose stockpile is rumoured to contain up to 1,000 tonnes of the stuff?

If the West fails to react to this infraction of Obama's red line what message does it send to, say, a nuclear-tooled Iran itching for a pop at Israel?

Strike Assad and you help the opposition, including al-Qaida linked groups, we're warned.

And how even do you strike Assad without incurring further civilian casualties? It's not as though you can bomb the poison gas plants...

And are we even sure it was Assad? We're told that military intelligence uses satellites than can read the ingredients on crisp packets from outer space. Surely they know.

But can we believe what they tell us?

And that – the question of who or what to believe – is the crux.

For however they confront this unholy hellish, complex mess in the days ahead, Western leaders will not have the people with them unless they rebuild trust.

They need to be straight with us.

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