We can't ignore Syria but bombs won't help
One month ago, it seemed almost inevitable that there would be an American-led military strike against Syria, in the aftermath of the use of chemical weapons during the civil war. That prospect filled me with horror.
A few weeks later, after the British Government's defeat in the House of Commons, the fragility of Congressional support for President Obama, and diplomatic initiatives by Russia and the USA, the threat of outside violent intervention has receded.
Events can change quickly amid the volatility of war, so the Syrian situation may be different again by the time this is published.
But whatever the immediate state of play, there are some fundamental principles which I believe should be the basis of our response.
Wella SP Color Save 7 Piece Gift Set. rrp £27.50 (saving £10.00)View details
Colour Save Shampoo 250ml, Colour Save Conditioner 200ml, Mini Repair Shampoo 30ml,Mini Repair Mask 30ml, Mini Shine Define Shampoo 30ml, Mini Shine Define Mask 30ml,Mini Perfect Hold Hairspray 50ml
Terms: Limited availability. Whilst stocks last.
Contact: 01522 303163
Valid until: Tuesday, December 31 2013
In my view, the arguments against military intervention are compelling. However, it concerns me that some of those – on both sides of the Atlantic – who have opposed armed strikes have done so for the wrong reasons.
There seems to be a school of thought that what happens in Syria isn't really something for us to be bothered about.
It's reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain in 1938, describing Czechoslovakia as a faraway country of which we know little.
Internationalism is key to the progress, indeed the survival, of the human race. Death, destruction and injustice, wherever they happen, are the business of us all.
The question that the Syrian tragedy poses is not whether the international community should respond, but how it should do so.
The lesson of history is that using violence to redress violence only breeds more violence in turn. And it isn't as if we have to cast our minds back very far to see an obvious example.
A decade ago, exactly the same arguments were put forward for the Iraq war as have been advanced by those who want to launch missiles on Syria.
The apparently humanitarian perspective was that we had to save the Iraqi people from a malicious dictator.
It is estimated that up to 1 million Iraqis have been killed since 2003 and up to 800,000 children made orphans.
Tony Blair might still say he would invade Iraq again, if the clocks could be put back, but not many others would say so.
On any humanitarian judgement, the war and its consequences have surely been a disaster for the people of Iraq.
Of course, the slaughter in Syria is unacceptable. The use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity, whoever the perpetrator. The violent deaths of children and innocent civilians by whatever means are also indefensible.
But when the Prime Minister says we cannot stand idly by, meaning we should unleash more explosives on the country, his case does not stand to reason.
Bombs and missiles can only cause more deaths, more suffering, millions more refugees.
Military action is a recipe, not for peace, but for the conflagration of the Middle East.
In wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan, America and its allies have tried – and failed – to subjugate supposedly recalcitrant peoples.
US foreign policy since 1945 is a catalogue of support for oppressive regimes, betrayal of freedom and social justice, and the promotion of the interests of wealthy nations.
"Not standing idly by" should mean breaking away from that history in favour of a world based on peace and equality. That can only be achieved by negotiation, conversation and diplomacy. No-one can pretend that this is an easy course, but it is the only one.
The problems of Syria, of its region, and of our planet can never be solved by violence. There really is no alternative to human beings talking to each other.