When are we going to get off the fence about Syria? Nigel BiggR writes today (10th October) in The Times that military action is required on the ground, and if necessary The UK should participate even if "illegal", which in this case means without UN approval. It won't be the first time that The UK would embark on foreign military intervention without UN endorsement, but what is the basis for doing so? Surely the primary reason would be national self interest, though one might make an argument for humanitarian reasons (to enable refugees to go home or to defeat a palpably evil ISIL regime).
Why do we balk at the idea of supporting the repugnant Assad regime? There are many inhumane and murderous dictatorships that the west has supported over the years because it has been in one country or another's national interest, or simply to keep them from the Soviet (now Russian) sphere of influence. Legitimacy has never in our eyes been based on a democratic outcome or moral standing. We are more than happy to endorse the Saudi Arabian regime, which has judicially beheaded more people than ISIL, jails opponents and oppresses its female subjects. The only criterion should be a) what will get the right result in the end, and b) what are our national interests?
Iraq, Afghanistan and Lybia, to name a few recent interventions, surely show that we cannot succeed without a sufficiently strong and, preferably, legitimate partner on the ground who can from an effective government when military activity ceases. Who would that be in Syria? Are there any amongst the 30 (or is it 60?) opposition groups who can do this? Only Assad and Al-Baghdadi of ISIL surely are anywhere near strong enough. Of the two, and with Russia now supporting Assad, is there really any alternative at least in the short term? Can we not use our influence, such as it is, to persuade the opposition to save their powder for another day? Given the number of people that have dies so far this may be a far fetched idea, unless something valuable is offered in return.
If Russia expects the West to support Assad then we need something in return. It should agree to creating a safe space for refugees in the north, protected by NATO. This would defer resolution of internal Syrian political problems until Assad is firmly in control again of the majority of Syrian territory. In the meantime the focus can be on eliminating the scourge of Da'esh/ISIL, which is to only murdering Muslims in the Middle East but will, if left to its own devices become a threat to Western Europe as well.