As the Syrian civil war spirals into mindless violence, the Western powers’ response to the turmoil is increasingly confused and contradictory.
It all looked so simple at the outset. Following the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, a people-led revolution would topple President Bashar Al-Assad; a Nato-friendly interim government would, as in Libya, be installed; and Iran would thus lose its key conduit for supplying arms to Hizbollah and its only Arab ally.
Meanwhile, Israel or the US — or both — would prepare to bomb the Islamic theocracy’s nuclear facilities.
The plan was based on two premises, both fatally flawed from the outset to all but the policy wonks busy drawing it up.
The popular uprising against Assad still has not happened. In fact, it is a more remote possibility than ever.
Contrary to the constant barrage of “good verses evil” propaganda from the Western media, this is not, and never has been, a people’s uprising against a hated dictator.
It’s a jihad, led by tens of thousands of Islamic extremists, armed and funded by the Wahhabi dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in co-ordination with Western intelligence agencies.
The jihadis’ stated intention is to establish a hardline Islamist state. Coupled with their repeated, and well-documented, human rights abuses, they have alienated Syria’s myriad religious minorities and the moderate Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of the population. More than ever, Syrians are determined to stick with the devil they know.
Which brings us to the second false premise.
The New York Times reported last week what has also been obvious for more than a year to all but the wilfully misinformed: that “nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of”.
All the front-line fighting and suicide bombings are being carried out, in fact, by the Al-Nasra Front.
Bizarrely, this is a group that Washington has listed as a terrorist outfit and recently formed an alliance with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Worse, spokesmen for the Al-Nasra Front have been openly bragging about how, once the Assad regime falls, they will turn their jihadi fury — and arms — on Israel and the West.
Small wonder that last week Mr Obama ruled out sending ground troops to aid the “rebels”. His statement came on the back of a Reuters/Ipsos poll, which found only one in 10 Americans think the US should now intervene — rising to only 27 per cent if chemical weapons are used by the Syrian government. A Pew poll similarly found that in every Mid East country, an overwhelming majority is against US military intervention.
In the midst of all this, Israel’s airstrike last week targeting Syrian weapons sites allowed Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, to join Mr Assad in presenting the whole debacle as part of a world Zionist conspiracy.
With the claims that the Syrian forces have used chemical weapons against civilians being met by deep scepticism, and even by counter-claims at the UN that the jihadis have been committing the same war crime, Nato has boxed itself into a corner — with only two viable options left.
The first is the assassination of Mr Assad, which, because illegal under international law, would have to be carried out by the jihadis. But Mr Assad, presumably, is not sleeping in the same bed every night; and he rarely appears in public. The second is to simply let the grisly chaos reign.