Syria Air Strikes: A student debate

“CHEMICAL WARFARE IS AN EVIL THAT CANNOT BE TOLERATED ANY LONGER” – An argument in favour of the air strikes by William Jac Rees.

In the days running up to the targeted military strikes by the UK and its allies against the Syrian Regime, there was a noticeable silence from the British Government making the case for military intervention. This has meant that the Hard Left, enabled by Putin’s propaganda machine, have been able to construct a narrative that military action in Syria was unlawful and unnecessary, with some members of the Stop the War Coalition even going as far to say that President Assad “is a good man…who hasn’t murdered anyone”.

In reality, considering the horrific crimes that Assad committed against his own people, this was a threat that Britain and our allies could not ignore. I, like everyone else was horrified by the images of children gasping for air as chemicals filled their lungs and families found dead with burns to their bodies that have been shown on the news and shared on social media in the aftermath of the attack.

It’s important to note, that these were limited strikes against military targets, far away from any populated areas. No innocent civilians were killed. This action was, as the Prime Minister Theresa May said, “taken…to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capabilities – and to deter their future use.” Multiple sources have shown clearly that Syrian President Assad attacked the people of Douma with chemical weapons, killing 75 people, including many young children. This was illegal under the Chemical Weapons Convention and crossed the ‘red lines’ set by us in the West.

Previously, when Assad has used chemical weapons, the West has failed to respond. It’s possible that after 1,400 Syrians were killed with chemical weapons five years ago, that President Barack Obama’s refusal to take action, contrary to his own ‘red lines’, has led to Assad’s behaviour today. It’s clear also, that past promises to ensure that the Syrian regime got rid of all their chemical weapons stock by the Russian government have not been fulfilled.

Many critics of the Prime Minister have said that she should have consulted Parliament before authorising any military action, but it’s clear to me that these critics, wouldn’t approve of military action under any circumstances. Indeed, when asked on the Today programme, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott failed to say under what circumstances, if any, she would approve of action. Being in government means having to make difficult decisions, not pretending that they can just be avoided. In this case Mrs May was right to make use of the royal prerogative, enabling our armed forces to be deployed whilst still maintaining the element of surprise.

Jeremy Corbyn has also argued that no action should be taken without a United Nations resolution. This either means Mr Corbyn doesn’t understand that action from the UN is impossible whilst Russia keeps its veto in the security council, or thinks that the West should capitulate and try and compromise with the Russians, who have themselves carried out a chemical attack on British soil, in addition to making the completely outlandish and unsubstantiated claim that Britain staged the Douma attack (after previously trying to argue that the attack didn’t even take place). For Mr Corbyn and his allies, the concept of national interest mustn’t exist. From the Skripal poisoning, to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, they’ve shown that he prefers to promote Putin’s propaganda rather than trust the work of our intelligence agencies.

Chemical warfare is an evil that can’t be tolerated any longer by any member of the international community, and I believe that the allied response was the right response. I’m confident that this will now mean rogue regimes all around the world will now think twice before attacking their own innocent population with chemical weapons. And if they don’t, they should be aware that the West will be ready once again to take action against these crimes against humanity, if necessary.

“Syria is such a quagmire that it would not be wise for the West to intervene”
– An argument opposing the air strikes by Pete Dunham

The history of Western intervention in the Middle East is complex, and has generally been unhelpful to say the least. The Iraq War was the biggest of these blunders in modern times and there is no doubt that we still live in the shadow of that conflict. The decisions that George W. Bush and Tony Blair made have cost hundreds and hundreds of American and British lives, and the lives hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. It is unfortunately a space where Islamic State later flourished, with all the evil that entailed. It is hard to argue that Iraq was made much better after Western intervention.

There is a similar story with Libya. Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was a brutal dictator who stifled freedom in his country. The Western action was taken in response to the Libyan Civil War, and was indeed supported by a United Nations Security Council resolution. This time the UK and US were joined by France as the main powers involved, but there has been a similar outcome to Iraq – a failure of post-war planning which has led to a failed state in a toxic region of the world where things go badly wrong very easily. Barack Obama reportedly even privately slated David Cameron for his lack of commitment after the initial bombing in Libya. Both of these failed military actions in Iraq then Libya rightfully make Western citizens question the effectivenes and morality of our actions in the Middle East. In recent polling by YouGov, those opposed to strikes far outweigh those in favour – and who can blame them given our unfortunate recent history in this area.

What is the plan in Syria? So far there have only been limited air strikes, but Emmanuel Macron has claimed that Donald Trump and the US are committed to Syria for the long-term. Whether or not US officials are committed, Trump’s erratic behaviour means that future US actions in Syria are unpredictable, and this lack of clarity is worrying. The prospect of a late-night tweet setting off a misguided military action is unfortunately the world we now live in. It is however doubtful that the UK and France would press ahead with intervention by themselves if the Americans were not involved, and if Trump kept to his campaign promises then there would be no prospect of intervention in Syria.

It is a difficult situation, there is no doubt. If Western powers press ahead like they have previously and attempt to topple Bashar Al-Assad, then something even worse could come next. Assad is clearly an evil dictator, but I have outlined that doesn’t necessarily mean that something worse won’t come next.

Also, the presence of Russia muddies the waters. Russian troops and secret services are present in Syria and the risk of a Western air strike killing any of them is a risk not worth taking – in the age of nuclear weapons, the risk of escalation could be fatal. Another area of concern is the sidelining of Parliament by Theresa May. Legally she is free to take military action such as this independent of Parliament, but it concerns me to see such a decision taken without regard for our democratically elected Members of Parliament, who could then be held accountable for their decision by their constituents. When David Cameron wanted airstrikes in Syria back in 2013, he put it to a House of Commons vote and lost. Perhaps Theresa May was afraid of the same thing happening again, especially with the lack of a Conservative majority and her reliance on the DUP.

Syria is such a quagmire that it would not be wise for the West to intervene. Like it or not, it is Russia’s playground due to American withdrawal and to have more bombing in that part of the world could set us on a much more dangerous path that we could soon come to regret.