We are told it has drawn a line in the sand. We are told it has sent a clear message. But what message has our bombing in Syria sent?
We want to say that chemical weapons should never be used. They are vile weapons but the reality is that the chlorine used in the chemical attack is widely available for numerous legitimate reasons and no amount of bombing will rid Syria of its stocks. Bombing did not stop them using chlorine bombs before, why will it now?
Chemical weapons are bad but in reacting to their use are we saying that so-called conventional bombing is OK? The intense bombing of civilian areas is always hell whatever the type of weapon. This has continued daily in a siege that has been degrading and dehumanising. What are we doing about that?
Or was it just to re-enforce the message: West and its allies – good; Russia and its allies -bad? Was it another chess move in a proxy world war (or warming Cold War)? It is perhaps worth remembering our history that at key moments in global upheaval Russia has often proved to be our ally.
The bombing mission was undertaken without UN approval and without the approval of our own parliament. So it is now OK for one country to attack another because they think this is the right thing to do. How will we feel when other countries practice the same doctrine in the future? How would we feel if it was us being attacked in this way?
And in a parliamentary democracy should the Prime Minister be able to act in this way or is this just yet one more case of the Executive side-lining parliament? And if the fear is that parliament would not have supported such an action, how is it right that the Executive does that which parliament does not support? Is it not exactly this that makes people question the value of our democratic processes or feel alienated from them?
And even if we had the moral and legal authority to act in this way, where is the evidence that such actions actually work? Bombing did not bring a new beginning for Libya; just new chaos. Shock and awe did not help us win the peace in Iraq. Airpower gave no lasting legacy in Afghanistan. Politicians in the West love their superior air power – it enables them to make statements with the minimum risk to their own nation but the truth is they more often than not add fuel to an already out of control fire. The Syrian government is not bowed and their opposition is not satisfied.
As other nations grow in wealth and power, the West will not always be top dog. Other nations may decide it is their turn to play at being the world’s police. If they decide to copy the example we have set, we may not like the results. The lasting message from this week’s bombing is that, if you have the resources, nations can do whatever they like.
When the poisoning happened in Salisbury we expelled Russian diplomats and they expelled the same number of ours. When we find ourselves not understanding the actions of a nation do we not need more diplomats not less? We will never understand one another better by digging into our respective trenches?
We may find the United Nations slow, cumbersome and we fear it is ineffective but rather than bemoaning its shortcomings let us work towards making it more effective and less cumbersome. Maybe it is time to change the membership of the Security Council and do away with the idea of permanent members. This original constitution may have helped keep the peace in Europe but has locked all other conflicts into the same unhelpful East v West showdown. It is time to affirm changing global patterns of power and influence and strive for greater equality between all nations.
These seemingly quick fixes to complicated problems often have long and dangerous legacies. Whatever other messages this latest bombing campaign has given, one thing is clear, there has to be another way. It has solved nothing. The real work of peace making is still waiting to be begun.