Leaders: World will rue western inaction in Syria

THE evacuation of rebel forces from the Syrian city of Homs is a potent symbol of the impotence of the international community in the face of President Assad’s brutality over the past three years.

Destroyed buildings in Homs, Syria. Picture: AP
Destroyed buildings in Homs, Syria. Picture: AP

The West’s inability to counter the Damascus regime’s aggression against its own people has led to the crumbling of resistance in the city that was the stronghold of the rebel army. The evacuation of Homs is the epitome of Western diplomatic failure.

A year ago, the appalling bloodshed of the civil war drew unanimous condemnation from the West. And Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people last August crossed the red line that President Obama had said would trigger a military intervention.

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But first London and then Washington balked at military action, as politicians embraced a new isolationism born of the years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The result is a rebellion that can justly claim to have been let down by a collective failure of will in the West, a failure which could yet bear a bitter fruit in Islamist anger exported by the disillusioned Syrian rebels to the wider world.

With the death toll now numbering in hundreds of thousands, what has happened?

For an answer, we need look to the two countries which have kept the Assad regime afloat for their own narrow interests – Iran and Russia. Tehran’s religious rulers see Assad as an essential Shia bulwark against the power of Sunni forces in the region. Moscow’s motivation is as much to do with its current power games with the West as it is with the Syrian crisis on its own terms.

It was President Putin’s intervention last autumn that halted Western military action against Assad’s forces, preventing the decisive intervention that could have given the rebels a chance to triumph – or at least secure their corner of a divided nation. It is true the regime’s chemical weapons capabilities are being dismantled. But the cost has been the survival, and indeed, the cementing of the Assad regime in power, as its poorly-equipped opponents fade.

President Putin, meanwhile, has observed the West’s inaction in Syria and calculated that Washington and London will be similarly reticent about intervention elsewhere. And so it has proved, with the annexation of the Crimea and continued power games over Ukraine.

What now is the counter to Russian aggression and expansionism? The brutal answer is that there is none. An emboldened Mr Putin regards the West as weak, and knows that the harder he acts abroad the stronger his position at home, where growing nationalist sentiment is a useful distraction from a foundering economy.

More than just the rebels of Homs will rue the West’s inaction in Syria.

Rest & Rockall is rather alluring

ADVENTURER Nick Hancock is setting out to break the record for survival on the lonely lump of stone that is the most westerly piece of land in British waters – Rockall.

This challenge is being presented as a heroic feat of physical robustness and mental toughness, and there can be no denying that a prolonged stay of 60 days on what is little more than a spray-lashed boulder will be an impressive feat.

And yet…

Many people reading about this exploit may, perhaps just momentarily, and perhaps for somewhat longer, have envied Mr Hancock the prospect of his glorious isolation in the middle of the Atlantic, 260 miles west of the Outer Hebrides.

Busy mums and dads trailing fractious children. Hassled senior executives with pressurised jobs. Menial workers run ragged by uncaring bosses. All of these may well have experienced a moment of wistfulness while contemplating Mr Hancock’s enviable peace and quiet with nothing but the wind and a few seabirds for company.

And they may have had the fleeting thought: “I could do that.”

Who among us would not relish a few weeks of R&R with a comfy sleeping bag, a couple of good books, a box set on the iPad, and a supply of easy-cook ready meals? Not to mention a stash of chocolate and bottle of single malt to keep the spirits up?

We wish Mr Hancock the best of luck in his endeavours. We hope his journey there and back is safe, and that his stay is suitably uneventful. We trust he will return to his home in Ratho and his job as a chartered surveyor fully refreshed. And when he does, he may well find an orderly queue to replace him.