Not a day passes without the revelation of some new atrocity in Syria replete with grisly images of broken bodies, many of them children.
And inevitably, the clamour increases for something to be done to stop the violence. Usually this is accompanied by the cry that some sort of military intervention has to be preferable to the constant stream of gruesome evidence that the country is slipping into civil war.
All this is perfectly understandable. It is an outrage to humanity that gunmen are being permitted to run amok in Syria, casually killing people simply because they are opposed to the government or happen to be members of a rival religious sect. No-one in their right mind would not be affronted by such behaviour and it is easy to see why the rest of world is angrily demanding that there is a moral obligation for something to be done.
We have been here before, of course. Last year the West was placed under similar pressure to intervene in the struggle in Libya to unseat Muammar al-Gaddafi by supporting the rebel National Transitional Council. At the bidding of Britain and France, this eventually happened and – courtesy of superior air power and the insertion of modern arms – the rebels succeeded in their objectives.
Bearing that example in mind, what was good for Libya should also be good for Syria. President Bashar al-Assad is no less of a tyrant than Gaddafi, Syrians are killing each other in droves just as happened in Libya and civil war threatened both countries. Surely intervention in Syria would end the violence and achieve a political solution?
Well, not exactly. Eight months after Gaddafi was murdered the country is in the hands of rival militias, many of them infiltrated by al-Qaeda fighters, and there is no sign of the promised democratic reforms.
It is only too possible that Syria would produce a similar outcome – only this time the situation is complicated by the presence of rival Middle Eastern countries in the region, each of which has different agendas.
So as military intervention could spark a regional war it has to be resisted – change for change's sake is not always the best way forward. But equally, doing nothing is a policy of despair. What is needed now is a renewal of the UN truce to halt the killing and the imposition of massive diplomatic pressure on Assad to begin negotiations with the opposition before they are split by extremists and their aim of democratic reform is forgotten.
Here, Russia has a vital role to play as Syria is an important client state, and with Vladimir Putin in the early days of his presidency he might just be persuaded to accept the role of elder statesman.
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