Protesting in Westminster on Friday, a smattering of members of the Stop the War coalition chanted and pleaded for the UK government to take no military action in Syria. It was on a much, much smaller scale yet was reminiscent of the protests over the UK’s invasion of Iraq, except this time the protesters are on the wrong side of history.
Of course, the carrying of both the Russian and Syrian flags, in this case, were the biggest indicators that the activist’s position was incorrect but this absurd minority group are still very much in the plurality when it comes to public opinion on the West’s intervention in Syria.
Both Survation and YouGov have recorded more voters opposing air strikes against Assad’s regime than favouring them. Understandably, in the post-Iraq climate, dovishness is the order of the day – Tony Blair’s lasting legacy, but in this case it is simply the wrong approach. Fundamentally, the public’s reluctance to take forceful action is centred on myth. Firstly, unlike with the sizeable Western-led denial of ‘the dodgy dossier’ in the early 00s, there is no doubt that Assad’s regime have carried out chemical weapons attacks on its own people, most recently in Douma. The only notable deniers of this version of events are Russia and Iran - two countries who have proven time and time again to be belligerents to basic diplomacy and decency.
Secondly, many people, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn included, seem to be seeking pacifism beyond reason. Now, don’t get me wrong, pacifism is a wonderful ideal but in these circumstances it is merely a pipe dream. It should always be maintained as the global community’s end goal but along the way inaction can be the biggest hindrance to achieving that. We all know this, and to pretend that nonviolence is always the answer is at best naive and at worst cynical.
Corbyn, and those of his mind-set, know that a UN Security Council resolution is not possible because of Russia’s veto yet that is the line they continue to take. How have we got to the point where there are swathes of the public more trusting of Russian propaganda than the West’s major political institutions?
How have we got to a stage where it is more controversial to destroy chemical weapon’s facilities than it is to actually use those chemical weapons to inflict indescribable suffering on defenceless people? It appears in the age of social media, far too many people are concerned with saying the right things than actually doing the right things.
The fact that so-called ‘woke progressives’ are weaponising air strikes against warehouses as a means to bash the government is nonsense. Assad’s regime is responsible for more than 92% of the civilian deaths in the Syrian Civil War, so any ‘morally righteous’ posturing against strikes on a humanitarian ground is redundant. Syrians are already being massacred in their thousands, looking the other way as people are slaughtered whilst taking the credit for being a pacifist is not even close to being a respectable position.
Of course, there is room for debate on the type of intervention the West should lead in Syria. For example, we cannot continue with the relics of ‘new democratic’ foreign policy and employ any plan that isn’t holistic. That means, we need a more thorough approach to halting Assad than just clipping him round the ear for using chemical weapons but doing very little to ensure the peace of the people in Syria.
Whilst the West does view ISIS as the bigger threat to itself, if it decides to enter the fray of a foreign land’s civil war it must be there to help clean up the mess afterwards. Perhaps more importantly though, the West must now ditch its fanatical xenophobic obsession and accept a much larger portion of the five million refugees the war has displaced or, at the very, very least increase its financial support to Syria’s neighbours to allow them to do it instead.
Yes, the nuance in this debate will endure. The protocol, strategy, and extent of Western intervention are very much open for negotiation and discussion, but to act was a necessity. Human rights activists and democrats in Syria have welcomed the strikes and wanted them sooner. I won’t say it often, if ever again of the latter two, but Macron, Trump and May were right to make this unpopular decision. In the end, it all boils down to what the Prime Minister said herself; “We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none.”