David Cameron doesn’t have a clue about Syria. He has a background in TV, not in the complexities of the ethnic, religious and political make-up of the Levant.
So why would I know more about Syria than a politician? Well, I lived in Damascus in 2009/10 while I was studying Arabic. This by no means makes me an expert, but I knew people. I had friends and neighbours, I met average Syrian people, the kind of people who are now trapped in their neighbourhoods between checkpoints or struggling to get by in Lebanon or Turkey.
When you hear Obama, Cameron or Hollande talk about the morality of a “robust response” to the apparent gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus, remember this. They aren’t thinking about protecting schoolchildren from napalm or families from sarin. Their foreign policy goal is weakening the Iran-Syria-HizbAllah alliance that rivals Saudi Arabia and regularly threatens Israel. This is priority number one and they really aren’t bothered how many Syrians (Lebanese and Iraqis) die.
Sending arms escalates the war. More arms mean more people die and not just from the army. Firing cruise missiles can have no benefits; they might destroy an army base, but it’s equally likely they’ll hit a family home as in Tripoli in 1986. This type of bombardment can’t actually prevent anyone from using chemical weapons as targeting stores would release their lethal contents.
So are there any solutions? There probably aren’t, but there are less damaging options, like using the pressure caused by international outrage to bring both sides to the negotiating table. No-one seriously thinks the rebels can win without outside intervention, so we should push for a ceasefire aimed at preventing a Halabja style massacre, and helping the 2 million refugees. The stalemate means suffering for all Syrians as the militias get more vicious every day.
And for those people who think that Britain has lost its world leader status by voting against military action, I’m afraid that happened in 1956. We no longer have an empire, this is the 21st century, and bombing Syria will only hurt the people who made me so welcome three years ago, people who want to go home and get back to their lives.