The twisted logic on which the British public was repeatedly told that the regime in the Syrian Arab Republic was a monstrous one destined to a horrible downfall, akin to that of Gaddafi’s in Libya, still rankles me to this day.
The continuous melodrama, now nearing the best part of three brutal years, has seen us witnessing everything from conflicting stories of major breakthroughs, imminent regime collapse, exile diplomacy, the sending of lethal military aid, the training of a 100,000 strong rebel force as well as intervention by virtue of air strikes that failed to come to fruition.
Yet the path chosen by those honourable civil servants who make policy whilst sitting beneath the lofty ceilings of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), in the supposed spirit of democratic liberation, could not have been more disastrous for the standing of the British state in world affairs, public support for military and political intervention and foreseeing the potential of terrorism-supporting activities being hatched on the streets of our country.
Their ill articulated an incoherent policy was premised, as it is today, on throwing our weight behind the so-called ‘moderate opposition’ to the Assad regime, on the pretext that with significant western backing coupled with the momentum of the Arab Spring, the rebellion would do away with the last vestiges of it in a manner not dissimilar to those that fell before it.
But when you have policy makers whose interest in mathematics appears to have ended with high school, as if numbers were invented to only count money, it no longer beggars belief to comprehend why their policy decisions were in fact a series of doomed ones all along.
I say this because it’s implausible that the assessment of any western intelligence agency in 2011, would not have concluded that the only major opposition in Syria is, and always has been, Islamic extremists – who lured by the thought of additional Arab and western assistance in overthrowing their nemesis in the Baathist regime, would quickly hold sway at the forefront of the conflict.
When along with their military counter-parts they war-gamed every conceivable scenario, did they not calculate the potential battlefield discrepancy once the Alawite and other minority make-up of that country, fighters, money and armaments from Iran – as well as the most formidable hybrid-guerrilla fighting force in the world, Lebanese Hezbollah; would have inevitably impacted upon the equation?
Surely, a tallying of the facts and figures would have revealed that any overt or covert military intervention was both inherently dangerous in its nature and unlikely to succeed in the face of these variables.
In turn, this miserable failure led to untoward battlefield planning since it failed to provide adequate answers to the three prerequisites of military action: What you actually plan to achieve, the scope of consequences for that action, and how you’re supposed to definitively finish the war you started considering victory for one sect in that country would be an existential dilemma for another.
Despite their war gaming, the death toll in the conflict gradually spiralled, hundreds of thousands became internally displaced in desperate conditions, nearly a million fled the country and the depth of brutal killings and sectarianism by Al-Qaeda linked jihadists plunged the country into an even deeper killing zone.
This then had a direct impact on the British publics indifference to military action in that country.
Even after those very same policy makers were going out-and-out for air strikes on regime targets following accusations that it had used chemicals weapons on rebel-held areas, a majority of British law makers, sensing the populations lack of appetite for another Iraq-style fiasco, vetoed any such intervention in parliament.
Yet another ill-sighted corollary of British involvement in the Syria civil war has been the blowback on mainland Britain.
Even as the conflict dragged on, and many Arab and western nations were all but openly encouraging sympathetic Muslims to join the fight to topple the Assad regime, intelligence and security officials were quietly, but incrementally, making the case that triumph or defeat against Assad – the newfound Jihadists would eventually return with their heroism on to the streets of the U.K.
These apprehensions would soon be vindicated when we began to see a string of British subjects, either leaving the country to join extremist rebels, fighting or being killed alongside them or providing terrorist training to them in Syria itself.
In addition to that, others were charged with anti-terror offenses related to the funding of that crude rebellion from Britain – which in one astonishing case involved a 23-year-old student apprehended at Heathrow airport, en route to Syria via Turkey, and found with thousands of pounds stashed in her underwear which she claimed was for the purchasing of gold for her mother – although she is currently on trial accused of being a courier for transporting money to Jihadist rebels.
The situation has clearly become a messy agglomeration.
Even after three years of soiling the country into the dirty quagmire that has become Syria, those very same policy makers in the FCO still don’t have the wherewithal to admit the reality: despite funnelling millions of pounds of tax payers money in military and financial aid to the swiftly dwindling opposition, the net result has been the maximizing our losses and the minimizing our gains at almost every measure of the conflict inside and outside of that country.
But for now, the experience of those who’ve dealt with past and present officials in the FCO, would unequivocally conclude that it’s a hopeless cause to assume once can successfully convince them on the need for a radical policy shift with respect to Syria anytime soon.
That’s because changing their intractable minds would be akin to asking them to pull out their own teeth — something they won’t do voluntarily.