The wrong message on Syria

September 4, 2013

As we bid goodbye to the year, it is difficult not to feel anxious about the next twelve months. Most immediately, over 1400 people lie dead in Syria, gassed by Bashar al-Assad. And the prospects for the future are even more frightening.

It was bad enough that the House of Commons decided that the UK should turn a blind eye to mass murder. But what has turned our domestic political shame into something even worse is President Obama’s vacillation and his handing over to Congress the decision about the United States’s response.

The message the Syrian leader will have taken is that the West is weak, spineless and easily manipulated. Worse, every tyrant and terrorist on the planet will have learned the same thing – not least Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terror and on the cusp of being able to develop its own nuclear weapon. Instead of responding to a crime against humanity with decisive action, we have paraded — almost as if we are proud of it — that we lack the will to act.

It is almost impossible to imagine a worse message to have sent. The Commons vote has implications far beyond Syria. At a stroke it renders Britain almost irrelevant in the Middle East. The Israelis will laugh now at our pretentions to be taken seriously. The Palestinians will ignore us. Perhaps that is no bad thing; but it was hardly part of the thinking process behind the vote (if indeed there was a thinking process).

Despite the President’s inability to take decisions for himself, American influence in some parts of the region remains great — not least because of the enormous amount of aid it hands over. And John Kerry has certainly put a huge amount of work into restarted talks between Israel and the PA. But there are precious few grounds for optimism over the talks, or indeed in regard to any part of the Middle East.

The consequences of the misnamed Arab Spring are still being played out and it is difficult to conceive that, come next Rosh Hashanah, there will be reason to be any more optimistic. Nonetheless, we wish a Shana Tovah to all our readers.

Last updated: 8:45am, September 4 2013