Going in would have been a calamity: MICHAEL BURLEIGH says it is nonsense that Britain holds some responsibility for the horrors in Syria after not intervening
The endgame in Aleppo was always going to be dreadful. How could it not be after many months of a siege that has generated terrible suffering with heart-rending images being broadcast round the world?
But for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, former chancellor George Osborne and other MPs to say we in Britain bore some responsibility for the horrors now taking place in the ancient Syrian city because we did not intervene in the war is, quite frankly, nonsense.
Has Osborne forgotten that he was part of the Conservative government responsible for the utterly disastrous intervention to get rid of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2011?
In the ensuing civil war, an estimated seven times more people died than the number of those they were actually trying to protect from Gaddafi.
The violent endgame in Aleppo, which is causing civilians to flee violence, pictured, is 'dreadful', but Britain being responsible for 'not intervening earlier' is 'nonsense', writes Michael Burleigh
The country was left in complete anarchy with hundreds of insurgent and terrorist groups operating in an arms free-for-all; and the chaos in Libya is directly responsible for the millions of migrants who’ve made their way to Europe, because the country has no navy to speak of which can stop migrants in the way Gaddafi’s navy used to.
The fact is, intervening in Syria would have been disastrous – for it is a hugely complex theatre which has presented immense challenges to all Western policy makers as it is used by countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia to fight their proxy wars.
It is instructive to look at why Obama considered all manner of possibilities in Syria before, finally, deciding not to intervene.
Early in 2012, the US president considered setting up a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians.
His chief of general staff, General Martin Dempsey, said it would first require 70,000 US personnel to destroy President Assad’s already formidable ground-to-air missile defences.
So, the US then supplied non-lethal military assistance in the form of training instead.
When in August 2012, US intelligence reported that Assad’s forces were moving and mixing chemical weapons agents, Obama spoke of ‘red lines’ regarding chemical weapons, which should not be crossed.
The city has been badly damaged by the battle between nationalist forces and rebels, which has last four years
After evidence came in April 2013 that Assad’s forces had used sarin at a village outside Aleppo, former president Bill Clinton and that old warmonger Senator John McCain were demanding Obama bomb Assad’s chemical munitions dumps.
And after Assad’s forces used chemical shells the following August to kill a large number of civilians in a rebel-controlled suburb of his capital, the Pentagon had a plan to use Tomahawk missiles to destroy four of Assad’s command and control sites.
Obama called off these strikes immediately after the British parliament voted against action.
But the British vote was not the only reason the strikes never took place.
The truth is that, having seen the disastrous effect of Anglo-French intervention in Libya, he had made sure Congress would have to approve them, and they never would have.
At that point the Israelis and Russians threw him a lifeline – and one which highlighted the importance of diplomacy.
As a friend of Putin, the Israelis helped broker a deal whereby Assad, with Russian encouragement, would surrender his chemical munitions to an obscure Hague-based agency.
The chemical weapons, which up to that point Assad claimed he did not possess, duly left Syria and over 42 days 600 metric tons of such materials were destroyed on board a US ship crewed by civilian experts.
While one can argue about the wisdom of Obama’s decision to issue red lines and then not enforce them, there were clearly enough armed players in the Syrian civil war to make Western intervention not only redundant but also a very risky proposition.
The fact is that every Western intervention, from Iraq in 2003 onwards, has created a monumental mess, from which Islamist terrorists (including Al Qaeda and Islamic State) have been the only beneficiaries.
‘Doing something’ in Syria is for fools. It would have been highly dangerous to ‘blow up’ chemical weapons stores – and not just because it could send huge amounts of highly poisonous sarin gas into the atmosphere.
Terrible though the scenes in Aleppo are (pictured), Osborne and co. should realise how important it is to think forwards through what might happen, rather than always, regretfully, looking backwards
Even imposing a no-fly zone would have exposed US or British aircraft to Assad’s Russian missile defences.
Since these include batteries crewed by Russians, and now with Russian combat aircraft in the skies above, are the proponents of intervention really ready for a shoot-out with Putin?
Worse, we have no clear idea of exactly who we would be indirectly aiding and abetting on the ground.
Do we really want Islamists in power in Syria? What would be the fate of its Christians and Shia Alawite Muslims?
Do we want Syria to break into four states, one of which would be an Islamist ‘jihadistan’, and all of which would cleanse their minorities?
Terrible though the scenes in Aleppo are, Osborne and co. should realise how important it is to think forwards through what might happen, rather than always, regretfully, looking backwards.
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