Libya taught us the powerful lesson that Western powers no longer have to rely on full-scale invasion to remove tyrannical regimes. Whereas the liberation of Iraq was somewhat medieval, the extent of Western intervention in Libya was limited to supporting the nascent uprising with tactical support and materiel, with a no-fly zone and supporting air bombardment.
One foreign policy pamphlet gives this new intervention approach the moniker "liberal intervention 2.0". Instead of invasion, the new paradigm is to support and encourage grassroots movements inside the borders of countries whose regimes we seek to change. At an opportune moment, Western powers would utilise their unique military assets to ensure a swift, relatively happy ending.
That, in a nutshell, is Intervention 2.0. I hope the ministers and wonks at the FCO are paying attention.
Syria provides a test, opportunity and responsibility to try out this new spanner in the foreign policy toolbox. President Assad and his murderous machine can no longer claim sovereignty. The streets of one of the Middle East's most important nations are awash with innocent blood. Thousands of children, women and men have been murdered and brutalised, and the world has a responsibility to protect the remaining Syrian population.
Assad is shameless in his crackdown on those seeking participation and a voice. With the videos and photos of such brazen murder saturating Western TV screens, we are reaching the 'Mogadishu line' with Syria, where it will become harder to resist all kinds of intervention. This presents a choice: we can step up our game now, in support of the growing anti-Assad forces in the country, or we can let the situation deteriorate further.
Direct intervention is off the table, thanks to Russia and China's obstinate position at the UN. So countries like ours have to find ways to support the uprising, without directly engaging the Syrian military. Options include the covert supply of weapons, the promise of exile to senior figures willing to abandon Assad, training, strategic and tactical support to the armed resistance, and the de-recognition of the Ba'athist regime as the government of Syria.
The key to making Intervention 2.0 work is to create a boiling point, beyond which it becomes impossible for a regime to remain. That point will be reached by making the resistance strong enough to take on the Syrian military machine, and its masters in Damascus. It must be demonstrated that the Assad regime is dissolving; the 'defection' of one or two senior figures to the other side would provide the spark.
Tunisia is hosting a 'friends of Syria' summit this week, an ideal occasion for a former Syrian minister to speak out against Assad, but I won't be holding my breath.
Intervention 2.0 is liberal intervention for the connected age. Previously, oppressed people didn't have a voice or the tools needed to stand up, thanks to the Internet they now do. Nobody can deny that Syrians are being brutalised or that they seek freedom; they are telling us themselves. They are screaming it at us via YouTube, Twitter and Al-Jazeera. To topple the Syrian regime, we don't need dodgy dossiers, a Security Council resolution or an invasion.
We simply need to give the Syrian people the tools, support and encouragement they need to do the job themselves. Now is the time to step up to our responsibilities.