What is to be done about Syria?

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: After Paris, Syria can no longer be ignored. French president Francois Hollande has declared his country at war. World leaders are scrambling to find a strategy to confront ISIS. Former rivals are coming together to speak of coordination and “deconfliction”. Over two years after the British parliament decided against intervening in Syria, the government is once again proposing a military response.

But if global inaction after the August 2013 chemical massacre in Syria yielded a disaster—at the time of the attacks, 30 months into the conflict, close to a hundred thousand people had been killed; in the next 30 months, the number of the dead would treble—action now is unlikely to make things better. The action being considered in 2013 at least had the merit of good faith. The debate now is driven by fear and optics alone. The flawed logic guiding the rush to action might deliver some telegenic victories, but will certainly make things worse in the longer run.

In the autumn of 2013, violence in Syria had reached dramatic levels, but it could still be considered a remote conflict. Bashar al Assad’s regime might have killed over 1,400 civilians in a chemical but he didn’t pose a threat to London or Paris (indeed, he had been welcome in both). Today Syria has become synonymous with a different monster. ISIS poses a threat not just to Syrians but also to western capitals. Action is no longer a choice, but is deemed a necessity.

This has induced some to reconsider their former antagonisms. A gathering din of approval is converging around Russian and Iranian proposals for an anti-terror alliance with Assad against ISIS. The logic was best articulated by former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine who, even before the Paris attacks, justified the rapprochement to a radio audience: “Let’s not forget that in the fight against Hitler, we had to ally with Stalin, who killed more people than Hitler.”

This logic—which strains to convey the impression of hard-nosed realism—is dubious in fact and myopic in its counsels. By misdiagnosing the problem, it prescribes a medicine that will only inflame the fever. [Continue reading…]

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