Military action has to be final option
The photographs of the dead children, apparently the victims of Syrian government chemical weapons, outraged the global community. A bitter internal war which has claimed tens of thousands of lives had reached a new low and has prompted possible intervention by western allies. While UN inspectors have yet to pronounce their findings on who used the poison gas, it seems that the US, Britain and France need no further proof or encouragement before launching an attack.
MPs will today vote on a motion condemning the attack but it will not authorise direct British military action against Syria. They are mindful of history. Intervention worked in the Balkans but has been an unmitigated disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading not to the establishment of democracy but rather the creation of bitter and bloody internecine fighting.
The ideal solution to this latest Middle Eastern crisis would be for a United Nations-led response, but undoubtedly China and Russia would oppose any sanctions or action against Syria. If the world's leading countries could put on a united front then President Assad could be compelled to listen, but that is a remote possibility, and therein lies the danger. The US and its western allies, including the UK, may feel they have no option but to intervene militarily, but such action would send shudders down many backs.
Syria has effective fighting forces and defences. It also has a powerful ally in Iran – though it is trying to build better relationships with the West – and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon could be used to strike back at attackers by launching bombing raids abroad. Diplomacy might seem a weak response to the use of poison gas, but its merits should be fully explored before armed attacks take place. Certainly if the UK decides to back American intervention it would need to do so with a clear strategy in mind and also an endgame, but this should only be the final option.