Leaders: Syrian intervention fraught with danger

Syrian rebel fighters in the southern Syrian town of Maaret al-Numan. Picture: Getty

Syrian rebel fighters in the southern Syrian town of Maaret al-Numan. Picture: Getty

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A BLOODY and escalating civil war; resort to extreme repressive measures by a dictatorship; a death toll now at 100,000; calls for the West to intervene; and now evidence that the regime has resorted to the use of chemical weapons: a decade ago a similar set of circumstances compelled the West to intervene in Iraq. Now not widely regarded as a good move.

Such is the background to the decision by US president Barak Obama to supply military aid to the opposition in Syria. It is a decision he has clearly taken with reluctance. It has been triggered by a conviction within the US administration that Syrian forces under Bashar al-Assad have resorted to using sarin gas on multiple occasions.

His reluctance to supply arms directly is wholly right in the circumstances. A decade ago, such US intervention would have been boldly announced and with little by way of qualification or restriction on measures that might be taken. But the West has become painfully wise since then. It is a wisdom forged by historic experience. There is greater awareness not only of the implications of military intervention in the Middle East, but also of the risk that such intervention may prove highly inimical to western influence and interests.

World opinion is appalled by the reports of indiscriminate aerial bombing and that the dictatorship has resorted to the use of sarin gas. And a strong military response has been urged from within the US Congress. But the decision to embark on even limited military assistance to the Syrian rebels, most likely to comprise the supply of light arms, is fraught with dangers.

Chief of these is that America, and possibly in due course the UK government, is drawn further into a conflict with deep-seated religious and sectarian overtones, against its will. In seeking to temper these, western influence is at best limited, and can prove – as it has historically proved – inflammatory.

A second is that the arms may end up in the wrong hands, strengthening the hand of elements within the Syrian opposition that are opposed to western interests.

Finally, the announcement by president Obama may be seen by others, notably Russia, as a unilateral action that undermines attempts to seek through negotiation a co-ordinated and collective response. The Obama announcement comes just ahead of a meeting of the G8 leading industrial economies next week, where an “urgent response” to the Syria crisis is on the agenda. Russia says it is not convinced – with the evidence it has been shown from Washington – of chemical weapons use.

The situation is fraught with both local and wider geo- political dangers for America and the West. In the light of the complex situation within the country and the wider and highly volatile geo-political context in which it is set, the US administration should proceed with caution.

No place for those who would deny Nessie

It IS time the myth of the Loch Ness monster was put to rest – the myth that the monster is a fiction and the creation of over-excited tourists and local visitor centres anxious to drum up business.

Nothing could be further from the truth. But “Nessie deniers” just don’t give up. The monster is very much alive and in good health, judging by the continuing spate of sightings and photographs. Where the deniers come unstuck is that the earnest and so-called “scientific” attempts to “prove” that no such creature exist have been tentative and inconclusive. The blunt truth is that the deniers have signally failed to prove beyond doubt that Nessie is a fiction. Indeed, barely does the ink have time to dry on some lengthy “scientific” treatise seeking to put the issue to rest, than yet another sighting pops up. And let’s not get in to that old scientific chestnut of “it’s not possible to prove a negative”.

Some people just can’t take a hint. It is high time the deniers realised their struggle is in vain. They should give up while there’s still time. Nessie can lie doggo in the depths of the loch for far longer than her deniers can keep writing their knocking copy. It is said that Scotland is the land of myth. But in the case of Nessie, the myth persists because Nessie persists. That’s the fact.

It is surely time Historic Scotland and the National Trust intervened to accord Nessie official recognition and supply a suitable blue plaque by the lochside.

And nearby should be a clear health and safety warning that visitors do not feed the monster with buns, sugar-coated confectionery, or any kind of pies or other foodstuffs that breach Scottish Government guidelines. It’s obesity that’s the killer.

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