The West#039;s Failure to Act Has Deepened Syria#039;s Civil War Agony

lt;pgt;Four years and four months after the start of the Syrian civil war, Europe and the West are floundering. The country has collapsed. More than 215,000 people have been killed and almost half the population has been displaced. The United Nations says that Syria is the quot;biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.quot; Horrific chlorine attacks against civilians continue, say Syrian doctors. Despite this President Bashar Assad remains in;/pgt; lt;pgt;quot;There is no strategic vision for the future of Syria except that the refugee crisis now poses a European problem,quot; says Middle East analyst Eyad Abu Shakra, of Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic newspaper. Julian Lewis, a senior British Conservative MP, seems to agree; he accused David Cameron, the British prime minister, of making up Syria policy quot;on the hoof,quot; after it was revealed that UK pilots had taken part in missions against Isis over Syria, when parliamentary authorisation had only been given for operations in Iraq. This month has special resonance: 20 years ago, in July 1995, Dutch UN peacekeepers stood by as Bosnian Serbs took away 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. The men were murdered over the next few days, under the watchful gaze of Western;/pgt; lt;pgt;The lessons of Srebrenica are very clear, says Carne Ross, of Independent Diplomat, a diplomatic advisory group. quot;Doing nothing is a decision in itself, with consequences – in this case the continued mass killing of civilians, including with indiscriminate weapons such as barrel bombs and poison gas. You cannot predict the ultimate consequences of intervention, but sometimes you have to take the risk when civilian lives are being lost.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;There were other lessons from Bosnia that could have been applied to Syria, says Abu Shakra, specifically the establishment of quot;safe havensquot;, where refugees would be protected, and quot;no-fly zones.quot; quot;These should have been the first and foremost step. They would have given a stern and clear message to all sides within Syria, as well as Assad#039;s backers, that the international community meant business.quot; Such steps would have increased the pressure on the Assad regime and heightened internal tensions, says Abu Shakra. quot;This would have speeded up desertions from the regime#039;s army, police and other civil and security agencies, and reassured the population. Alas, this did not happen and the result is now clear.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;A key turning point was the regime#039;s nerve gas attack in August 2013. The US and its allies were preparing to launch military strikes on the Assad regime. But the strikes were cancelled after the UK parliament voted against authorising military force. Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons and President Assad was instantly transformed from potential adversary to;/pgt; lt;pgt;In Paris, at least, there are still regrets. quot;The feeling is that it has proved a mistake to give up on the potential use of military means against President Assad, which we had been threatening,quot; says a senior French official. quot;We had a very clear view that this gas attack was really beyond the pale. Everything was ready to go. The plan was that this would be a coalition but it started unravelling when Cameron was voted down and it was obvious we would not go alone.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Airstrikes have aided the Kurds and the Yazidis but, across Syria, the slaughter of civilians continues. Assad has also benefited from the weakness of the Syrian opposition and the rise of Isis (Daesh), says the French official. quot;We have had a policy of trying to encourage the opposition for a long time, but it was not able to emerge as a powerful alternative force. This is not an excuse, but a fact of life. At the same time the emergence of Daesh has changed the picture a lot. You have what you did not have against Assad: a military coalition. The fight against Daesh has taken precedence. For all its faults, and as appalling as it is, the Assad regime is not coming at us directly, as is Daesh.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The EU has taken in refugees and its sanctions against Syria are biting hard, says the French official. quot;The sanctions are something. They really harm the regime, but they do not change the situation on the ground.quot;lt;/pgt;