Our panellists battle it outby Richard Perle, John McTernan / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
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In March 2011 the first protestors demanding political and economic reform from the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad were violently repulsed. Given what has happened since, it is reasonable to ask whether the worst might have been mitigated, or even avoided altogether, had we intervened in Syria three years ago.
Readers of Prospect will know what has happened since: thousands of mostly innocent civilians dead; millions driven into refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere; the use of chemical weapons; the end of any near-term prospect that Syria will be stable or humanely governed; intensification of the toxic Sunni-Shia conflict; the growth of Hezbollah and strengthening of its Iranian sponsor; and—not finally, because the list is endless—a recruitment bonanza for jihadists.
It might have been different. The west could have supported moderate Syrians who rose up against Assad. We did not need to intervene with armies on the ground—no western leader argued that we should. The Syrian opposition needed weapons, intelligence and political, diplomatic and moral support. Our failure to provide these created a vacuum that was certain to be filled by radical jihadists and their supporters. Al-Nusra, Isis and al-Qaeda filled a space that could, and should, have been occupied by moderates of our choosing. Did we know then who to support? I believe we knew enough to empower Syrians who shared our values and who would have worked with us. What our passivity and myopia got us instead is a lethal cadre drawn from a global jihadist movement that despises our values and is determined to destroy our civilisation. The worst is yet to come. Among the thousands fighting in Syria are jihadists from many countries, including the US and the UK. When it is over in Syria, they will return home. And when they do, we will wish we had intervened when we had the chance.