Leaders: Rebels require more than bandages and good wishes | Naked ambition unlikely to change
BRITAIN is to give further aid to mainstream opponents of President Bashar Assad’s brutal regime in Syria.
According to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, the Syrian opposition will receive an extra £5 million of non-lethal assistance from the UK, mainly in the form of medicines and satellite phones. But definitely no weapons. Any body armour supplied will go only to civilians, not to rebel fighters.
The British move smacks of wanting our diplomatic cake and eating it. And at minimum cost or risk. Is this really the best that Britain can do and in keeping with “national values” as Hague said?
For a start, if we are urging the Free Syrian Army to overthrow Assad and his Baathist regime by force, why stop at supplying non-lethal assistance? Urging ordinary Syrians to die for their freedom, then providing them only with bandages to counter air strikes by Assad’s Sukhoi jets smacks of hypocrisy, if not moral cowardice. Worse, it will do virtually nothing to bring an end to the civil war.
On the positive side, the British Government has taken a tough decision to publicly support the overthrow of Assad (and Gaddafi before him) despite the electorate’s weariness of foreign intervention. While Germany refused to get involved militarily in the Libyan civil war, despite a UN mandate for the “no fly” zone, the RAF was there to protect the lives of innocent Libyan civilians. But compared with Libya, Britain’s stance on Syria – bandages and good wishes – looks muted.
Clearly, in the absence of a UN mandate, no-one is suggesting direct British or NATO military intervention. However, the Syrian conflict has moved beyond demonstrations to outright civil war. In such circumstances, the FSA will not win without anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
Britain cannot act unilaterally, especially given our mistakes in Iraq. But the threat of more active intervention by the west, principally to supply the FSA with heavy arms, might force Assad to accept a ceasefire or even a peaceful political transition. It might also convince Moscow to act as a genuine honest broker with Damascus.
It can be argued this risks deepening the conflict by drawing Iran into further support for Assad. But Iran is already involved. Tehran has taken advantage of the resignation of Kofi Annan as UN mediator in Syria by hosting its own “peace” conference.
Besides, time is running out in Syria. The increasing involvement of Jihadists, some from Britain, risks turning Syria into another Iraq, with the Baathist regime being replaced by sectarian strife and permanent instability.
It is not necessary for the UK to hang out a big sign saying it is supplying guns to the FSA. But the message should be passed to Damascus, Moscow and Tehran that the west will not restrict itself to bandaging the wounds of a Syrian people battling for their freedom.
Naked ambition unlikely to change
IT may have rained most of the summer but that has not stopped Stephen Gough, aka the naked rambler, from walking…well, naked. Nor has it stopped the authorities from putting Mr Gough in the slammer. Yesterday he appeared in Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court charged with breech of the peace, by walking naked in a public place. The incident took place only a week after Gough was released from Perth prison, having served most of the last six years in jail for similar nude offences.
If someone was imprisoned for six years in Beijing or Texas, simply because they liked to hike naked, we would be appalled. Besides, with the average cost for maintaining a prisoner now over £40,000 per annum, keeping Mr Gough in the clink is expensive.
If Gough is willing to spend six years behind bars because he does not like clothes, another spell in prison is not going to change his mind. Fair enough, if Mr Gough frightens some ordinary citizen by his behaviour, he should be put in the cells for a night. But apart from locking him up and throwing away the key – which seems to be where the law is heading in Scotland – he is not going to change. Gough comes in a long line of people who enjoyed braving the elements. Benjamin Franklin took daily “air baths” while John Quincy Adams, the sixth US president, used to walk naked across the White House lawn to swim in the Potomac. Stephen Gough is an eccentic.
It beggars belief that the best this country can do in its treatment of this man is lock him up forever. The authorities must find a way to take him somewhere where he can have his freedom but not offend the public. The law needs to be flexible.
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