Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK. He was British Ambassador to Syria from 1991 to 1994.
The Syrian decision to permit an immediate inspection of the suburbs of Damascus allows a little more time for reflection. It is sorely needed.
The government has promised to consult Parliament before providing weapons to the Syrian opposition. It is therefore inevitable that they must consult before taking part in an armed attack on the Syrian state.
When they do so, there are three questions that should be pressed home.
First, is the government’s real objective to remove the regime?
If so, they will not succeed. Syria is now in a state of civil war of great complexity. This is not about a brutal dictator oppressing a populace who seek nothing but their democratic rights. The opposition certainly contains democrats (who agree with each other on very little) but the heart of opposition in Syria has long been the Muslim Brotherhood, albeit viciously suppressed for 40 years.
They are now reinforced by jihadists from all over the world. Furthermore, if the regime were to fall, the result would be chaos followed by a power struggle in which the jihadists would be a major player. Who can say who would then control Syria’s huge stock of chemical weapons?
The outcome would certainly not be democracy and would certainly not add to stability in that deeply troubled region.
The second question is whether the purpose is to punish the regime for their presumed use of chemical weapons.
If so, it may not have the desired effect. Of course there will be a good deal of damage and, sadly, many Syrians will be killed by our “precision” weapons. But a Western attack would also greatly strengthen Russian and Iranian determination to support the regime. Assad might even see it as being worth the price.
Lastly, have the government really thought through the longer-term consequences?
The spread of the conflict to Lebanon and Iraq would be accelerated as the entire Shia’ community reacted to these events. We would be perceived as taking sides with the Sunnis so there would be a risk of retaliation against ourselves – it is the Shia’ who say that car bombs are their cruise missiles.
For my part, it beggars belief that we appear to be considering an armed attack on Syria with no clear purpose and no achievable objective.
Our influence in the region is, nowadays, very limited and our direct interests in Syria are minimal. Surely we have learnt by now that blundering into wars in the Middle East is pure foolishness.