Syria: it takes more courage to say there is nothing outsiders can do

Simon Jenkins writes: The urge of much of Britain’s political establishment to attack Syria is in retreat. The prime minister’s eagerness to join an American bombing run on Damascus hit a humiliating reverse in the Commons on Thursday evening. The prime minister now appears to accept there will be no British intervention in Syria.

Prior to the vote, Downing Street had been swerving and skidding to avoid the Iraq trap. It wisely published the intelligence report indicating the Assad regime used chemical weapons in a raid on a Damascus suburb, possibly in random retaliation for an attempt on his life. Such weapons are illegal under international law. While it was wrong to rush to judgment with inquiries still in train, there is justice in a desire to enforce the law. But enforcement must be meticulous in its legality. Otherwise what is dispensed is anarchy, not law.

The government claimed it could attack Syria under the UN’s “responsibility to protect” doctrine, where people in a foreign state are abused by their own government. We know from the Iraq invasion that British politicians are adept at finding lawyers to say what they want. But facts are facts. The UN’s resolution 1674 on responsibility to protect plainly states that such action must be “through the security council in accordance with the charter”. That process was absent. [Continue reading…]

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