Belfast Telegraph

Syria suffering as West stays divided

Editor's Viewpoint

The situation in the Middle East retains the potential to trigger further violence throughout the region, and it has placed great strain on the special relationship between Britain and the USA.

David Cameron miscalculated badly in not being able to bring the Commons with him, and his failure to do so will call into question his political judgment. It will also be difficult for him to regain his authority after losing one of the most crucial votes of his premiership, which will also have an important bearing on British foreign policy.

The British Prime Minister's failure to deliver may have forced Obama's hand in deciding to allow Congress to debate the issue, even after he has declared that there will be a US attack on Syria, as yet unspecified.

This is a clear case of bolting the stable door while the horse of war is still inside. Obama has painted himself into a corner by declaring his intent to attack. What happens if his Republican enemies in Congress gang up to join dubious Democrats to defeat him?

This raises the possibility of a lame-duck President resorting to violence against Syria, and even if Obama wins the Congress vote, he has already given Syria much time to take defensive measures against an American attack. Significantly, the US envoy Richard Haass, who has been charged with bringing peace to Northern Ireland, is reported to have described Obama as moving from "leading from behind to not leading".

The upshot of this is to make the West seriously divided, and this can only give succour to President Assad and his allies, including Russia which has taken a hardline stance in supporting Syria.

There can be little doubt that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, but the fall-out from the Iraq campaign "has poisoned the well of public debate" on this major issue, as Defence Minister Philip Hammond suggested last week.

Western leaders are constrained by the legacy of the Iraq quagmire, and the future remains uncertain and extremely worrying for everyone, as each new development unfolds.

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