Syria: The non-interventionists’ Iraq

Iraq is often proposed as the antithesis to the case of intervention. It is said that intervention made the country unstable, cost hundreds of thousands of lives (or millions depending where you choose to cherry pick your figures), supported the rise of Islamofascist forces in the region and cost trillions of dollars in lost economic activity and expenditure on military equipment. Essentially it is often viewed that the policy in Iraq was a disaster from start to finish. However, if Iraq is the test case for interventionism and why it is a bad policy I propose that Syria should be the test case for non-interventionists. Non-interventionism has led to more deaths, more refugees, greater destruction and a worse war than would otherwise have occurred if we had made the move of helping pro-democracy supporters in Syria.

The implementation of non-intervention in Syria has been an absolute disaster. It has left a once moderate, pro democracy opposition surrounded and defeated by anti-democratic pro-dictatorship groups on both sides. It has helped galvanize the once battered al-Qaeda forces from Jahbat Al Nusra to ISIS and it has helped the government of Syria form a coalition of fighters from Hezbollah and Iran. It should be remembered that the Syrian uprisings started with street protests asking for more rights under Syrian law. Mr Assad decided not just to ignore these protests but to machine gun anyone who dared to complain about his era of dictatorship and his campaign of recreational sadism which had spread throughout the country. This protest morphed into an armed uprising facilitated by elements of the Syrian army switching sides and normal people taking up arms. They asked for our help to depose the second generation of tyrannical rule (a kind of Middle east North Korea). We politely declined, due to the unpopularity of foreign incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq the public demanded we stay out and not help others fighting for their rights. The farcical and much discredited ‘stop the war’ campaign was in full flow and Mr Galloway was shining as he was helping his best friend stay in power

As this non-interventionist movement has spread so has our collective legs. We have been found wanting in the morally serious department of difficult decisions. The myth of non-interventionism that it leads to no more deaths has been exposed by the tales of woe from a country which is now engaged in a religious proxy war. The only sufferers are the civilians who now face the choice of aligning with a government which has gassed, beaten and butchered them, or with Islamist rebels who behead them.  This was a choice created by not helping the earlier pro democracy uprising. It is a choice created by the policy of saying it is none of our business. Whoever wins the Syrian war they will be left with a state in turmoil and our policy towards them will have to be distant. The only real winners from this situation are the most extreme forces in the region whether an Iran with ties to Hezbollah and Mr Assad, or various AL-Qaeda groups who have a genuine chance to clinch their own state something which didn’t even happen in Afghanistan over a decade ago.

With over a million refugees, 100,000 dead and Lebanon’s population rising by 25% since the war began it has also led to a humanitarian crisis on a scale rarely seen even on the international stage. In 3 years we have seen the casualties of war in Syria almost outstrip a decades amount of casualties in Iraq and with none of the benefits of democracy, an improved economy and economic aid being given.  The legacy of Syria for us will be one which should haunt us more than any recent foreign policy decision. Instead of standing up for democracy and freedom, we pushed it to one side and listened to the bed fellows of those who gas innocent people and machine gun freedom fighters.