05/09/2013 09:07 BST | Updated 04/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Intervening In Syria Is the Right Thing to Do - That's Why So Many People Are Against It

The coalition of the willing done a good job of creating just the opposite, seemingly. Large majorities in both the UK and US still do not support attacking Syria, and it is those most passionate about politics who seem to most object. For the antiwar left, any use of force by the West is neo-imperialism and repeats the mistakes of ten years ago. After the suddenness and severity of the 9/11 attacks biased the debate towards pre-emption, the spectre of Iraq looms large indeed. For these guys, the difference that Saddam Hussein expertly persuaded the world he still had chemical weapons, while Bashar al-Assad has proved it beyond a doubt is a moot point.

And for former Iraq Hawks, the Syrian case does not seem quite one-sided or self-interested enough. If we are not remaking a country and only preventing slaughter, where is the benefit? It's the kind of pathological apathy you expect from the stuffed shirts at the Foreign Office, where humanitarianism has always been a foreign concept. (Remember Douglas Hurd, smoothly content to sell the Bosnian Muslims down the river?). The truth is that if this were a Romney administration determined to take action, with the probable exception of Ron and Rand Paul, they would be queuing up behind him and anyone else would be a traitor. The real reason for the sniping from the American right is they can't bear to concede a foreign policy card to Barack Obama.

Politicking is also to blame for Parliament leaving Britain effectively without a foreign policy. You can tell party pettiness was the reason behind Ed Miliband's opposition because he withdrew support at the last minute and has been back peddling ever since. Perhaps he frets the unlikely prospect of being Prime Minister and explaining why Britain should be allowed a say in negotiations with the US, as Tony Blair persuaded George W Bush to go through the UN on Iraq. Don't worry, Ed. Especially now; a third Clinton administration will relish reminding Britain its global pretensions are over. And you did all you could to make it happen.

Meanwhile, David Cameron's mistake was to misread not only the mood of his own party, which is in character, but also the international tea leaves. Why else drag MPs back to Westminster when Obama was nowhere near pulling the trigger? Why go ahead with the vote when the outcome would tie Britain's hands from joining allies for the first time since Vietnam? Labour did its part but Syria will now join the litany of government climb-downs his administration has become famous for. But rather unlike badger culls or payday loans, this one echoes down history.

In fact, the case against Assad is unassailable. But it is nuanced, with implications within and beyond the Middle East, for decades to come.

First, it is important to enforce a ban on chemical weapons because they are a weapon of terror, not war. Only because they had little military value, beyond temporary denial of territory, did States come together to outlaw them in the first place. Their disproportionate effects on unprepared civilians, however, are indiscriminate and obscene as they torture as well as kill. If public opinion is not focused on these facts, it is probably because it is not exactly coffee table fodder (outside the military history department).

Secondly, and by implication, Assad's use of chemical weapons is an act of state terror. This combines the worst elements of terrorism with large scale military conflict, and is a therefore a crime against humanity. Only in America could Jay Carney claim, albeit tenuously, that fact itself is an affront to national security, because the US is founded on the concept of human dignity.

Yet there is a third, more realistic, less obvious but most compelling reason why punishing Assad is in the national security interests of western democracies. Not responding to WMD use makes the world less safe, and conversely, punishing their use makes the world safer. American security arrangements underpin the peace in virtually every contested peninsular that would otherwise descend into global conflict. Whether it's an analyst at the Army of the People's Republic feeding all this into their models or a hardcore in Iran pondering how to hit Israel, our inaction makes their action more likely. And when the West has to hit back, most likely the stakes will be higher next time again.

But this is a delicate situation, detractors argue, with Al Qaeda, a stockpile that would make a Warsaw Pact general blush and the regional balance of power in play. That is a reason for getting in and doing something, not staying out and doing nothing.

And if you do look closely you can see real leadership today. Leadership, in all cases, is persuading people to do the right thing, not the easy thing. Political leadership is canalizing public opinion, herding cats that it is, toward taking action that is moral. After all, if doing the right thing was always popular we would not need leaders, only calculators. It is being practiced by people like Nick Clegg and John McCain who think partisan stripe should not prevent progress, and John Boehner and David Cameron who have at least tried to make their parties stand for more than the next election.

I hope right as well as well as might will carry the day in Syria. Even if our politicians have contrived that Britain will not be part of it.