I am not with those who, appalled at the sight of the world doing nothing as children and their parents are killed and maimed by Bashar al-Assad’s troops, immediately demand military action. There is not a binary choice between nothing and war. A range of non-violent steps in between are available to western nations. These include sabotage, electronic interference with the Assad forces’ communications, the offer of incentives to high-level Syrian defectors and the public naming of those units directly involved in the current brutality and their commanding officers. That way Assad’s generals will know that, however this ends, they will never be able to travel freely again, for fear of arrest and prosecution. In addition, of course, the west can support the opposition, which, we should remember, is not a rival army, but began as a non-violent protest movement of ordinary citizens, lethally crushed.
That menu of options comes from Carne Ross, who resigned from his post as the lead official on the Middle East inside the UK mission at the UN over Iraq. Specifically, he quit because he did not believe Britain and the US had exhausted all other options before resorting to war. Once again, in Syria’s case, he believes there are non-violent steps the west could and should take first. I agree. But if those stops don’t end the slaughter? “When innocent civilians are killed in large numbers, military force has to be an option,” he says.
In other words, the post-Iraq blanket rejection of intervention makes no moral sense.