As the warmongering rhetoric against the Syrian regime reaches fever pitch, it seems the prospect of any kind of measured, diplomatic response to last week’s apparent chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb is now receding into the blur of anti-Assad propaganda along with the niceties of establishing culpability. Clearly, when push comes to shove, UK and US governments pay no more than lip-service to international legality. If David Cameron and Barack Obama are privy to intelligence concerning the type and source of chemicals used in the atrocity, they appear steadfastly loathe to share it. The scarring of public opinion by past mistakes is such that any military action authorised by Western leaders will not be blessed with public support. This applies even to “limited punitive action” (if such a thing can be defined as a distinct form of military aggression).
The international community has a responsibility to protect civilian populations from the heinous use of chemical weapons, but it is by no means clear how Syrian civilians will benefit from American cruise missiles raining down on Damascus to assuage Western sensibilities.
Nor is it clear how Syrians will benefit from Western efforts to weaken Assad, given the dubious credentials of the opposition forces. Sometimes, you just have to face up to the uncomfortable realities of life. We may like democracy, but we should accept that it may not represent the best solution for all countries. Parts of North Africa and the Middle East are seething cauldrons of political and religious tension. It may be unpalatable to some, but a strong and effective tyrant who can keep a volatile population under control may be preferable to a dysfunctional government that can not.