Syria: a massive failure of diplomacy

It’s right that we’re not going to bomb Damascus, despite the continued heart-rending news from there.

Western diplomacy has played a disastrous hand over Syria. From the start, it has focused on Assad as the problem. He isn’t: the problem is the killing.

The world clearly doesn’t agree with the view that Assad is the problem, although I’m pretty sure that he’s at lease partly responsible. So focusing sanctions and action on him, and his regime, will always get a veto.

If, from the start, the West had pursued a peace conference with no preconditions, we might be getting somewhere now. But it’s got itself into a mess – no preconditions, but Assad must go. That’s not ‘no preconditions’.  If we’re sure of our ground  – that Assad is a butcher – then we shouldn’t be afraid that the truth would out at a peace conference.  The peace conference is where the people concerned should decide whether Assad, or one of the rebels, is the right leader for Syria.

There’s some nasty regional power games going on, with Saudi Arabia as so often the villain no one dare blame, seeking to establish regional hardline Sunni hegemony.   The people of Syria are the sacrificial pawns.  Iran is the less-guilty villain, but unpredictable and scary nonetheless.

So we’ve got ourselves into a proper mess. Red lines have been crossed which means the Americans think they’ll have to send a Tomahawk which will have one, certain effect: more Syrians will be killed.

It would not surprise me if  there’s been a breakdown of control within the Syrian Army. I very much doubt that Assad or his top advisers ordered the chemical attack. If it is proven then, even if he does see out the civil war, he’ll go to The Hague – which is the right place for it to be tested in any case.

The outcomes look worse by the day.

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