My opinion is that MPs were right to rule out military action against Syria at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pacifist. There is a time and place for military action. But this does not seem to be it.
Bombing is not a flippant undertaking. Missiles kill people, usually lots of people. A country has to be crystal clear about what it hopes to accomplish and very confident that it will do so. I don’t believe that the UK has enough clarity about either of these issues to justify the taking of lives.
And that’s because there is a broader issue at stake here than simply the use of chemical weapons. Whose side is the UK on in this civil war? The secular dictator or the Islamic radicals who oppose him? Where do our national interests lie? If anywhere? If we are going to contribute towards Assad’s downfall, we have to be sure that he will be replaced with something better. Ten years after a ground offensive in Iraq, during which over 100,000 people died, the body count is still rising – another 4,000 dead this year so far. Is the country better off than in Saddam’s days? And in the long term is a volatile and highly unstable Iraq any less of a danger to the West than it was 10 years ago?
The Arab Spring has become autumn, if not winter. The Middle East does not seem to have the stomach for change. And, if so, genuine change can never be imposed from the outside in. Until people have a change of heart about something, it will remain the same. And there is no change of heart in the Middle East. People do not seem to want to be rid of power hungry dictators; they simply want the power for themselves.
Historically, there has only ever been one effective agent of change. And we Jews have been preaching its virtues for 3500 years: Education. You want democracy? Teach people why democracy is a better system (assuming that it is). You want values? Teach those values. We live in a much better world today because, in spite of their faults, Christianity and Islam taught values to much of it.
How do you bring education to Syria and the Middle East? I have no idea. But I do know that if you want change, education is the only thing that might make it happen. Missiles certainly will not. We will just kill a lot of people while trying.