The first thing to say about Syria is that the defeat of the rebels in Aleppo won't bring peace. It will bring quiet oppression. There is an argument for saying that a stable regime which tortures and kills anyone that offers the least resistance is preferable to years of war. I don't hold with that argument. The Russians are using their arms to help force a whole people back under the rule of a leader that they were prepared to risk death and destruction to oppose. That is not my idea of a positive solution that can last. All that the victory of this oppressive regime is doing is putting back the date of the next war and subjecting another generation to the tender mercies of Assad. If anyone still holds illusions about either Russia or Assad then they should read the reports from the United Nations describing civilians lined up in the street for execution after his victory.
Since anyone who states this simple obvious truth is immediately accused of ignoring oppression by the West I need to immediately state that I have repeatedly attacked the UK for its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and have consistently opposed the UK's involvement in ill thought out foreign adventures.
Indeed it is the memory of those ill thought out adventures that I think it is important to stress at the moment. In the clamour to do something to help we are being told quite often that we should have listened to the wise voices that wanted to drop bombs on Syria. So let's remember what those people actually proposed. At first there was a proposal to drop bombs on Assad. This would have got us caught up in a proxy war with Russia where both sides upped their military intervention and the only loser would have been the Syrian people. So the UK parliament voted down Cameron's attempts to do this. One of the clearest pieces of thinking on foreign policy we have seen from the House of Parliament for many a year.
Then Cameron came back to that Parliament less than two years later and asked again for permission to bomb Syria. This time it was not to bomb Assad in the hope that it might prevent the scenes we are seeing this week. It was to bomb the rebels and help in a very small way to pave the way for Assad's victory. Apparently UK intelligence services are so good that they can identify suitable targets for our air force to surgically remove some of the bad people in Syria and leave alone the nice ones. The families of the tanker drivers we have killed as they carried out delivery work they had been forced to undertake for ISIS may not have been entirely convinced that our efforts have been so positive.
Again it is necessary to state something that should be obvious. Just because I oppose ill thought out bombing campaigns doesn't mean I want us to do nothing to stand up against terrorism. Rather the reverse. I want us to avoid being the best recruiting sergeant the terrorists ever had. Look at the situation created in Iraq by our military intervention. Does anyone seriously think it resulted in us being safer from terrorist attack? Or increased the welfare and happiness of the Iraqi nation? There are times when it is necessary to go to war. But clarity of purpose, determination to carry it through to completion, a knowledge of how to win and an ability to construct a more positive alternative are always necessary before you start shooting. The West has displayed none of those attributes in its recent wars.
That is why I am worried about us "doing something" in Syria. There are some very useful things we could do. We could supply food and medicines. That would help and would certainly do no harm. We could take a few more refugees instead of being one of the meanest and most unhelpful countries on this issue - thus betraying generations of good British tradition of helping those in need. If we really thought we had the capacity and the willingness to participate for the long term then we could declare a safe haven that we were prepared to act with force to protect. Syrian Kurdistan for example. Somewhere that will be next on the list for destruction.
The last of those strategies is, of course, riddled with difficulties and made harder by our recent history of failed interventions. So I suggest we keep things simple. If we want to help then send medicines and food. And stop supplying Saudi Arabia with bombs to do equally horrible things to civilians in Yemen or supplying Turkey to gear up for its invasion of the Kurds in Syria.
There is a very simple piece of common sense to follow in situations as complex as Syria and we all ought to be repeating it frequently if we really want to help.
First do no harm.