ALL we are saying, is give peace a chance.

The UN General-Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon, invoked John Lennon yesterday in his appeal to the ern powers to wait a while, and let the UN weapons inspectors do their job. It was an inspired use of the pop canon to ensure that his message got the maximum coverage around the world.

No-one wants a rush to judgment followed by an abortive intervention that leads to an escalation of violence. Even if David Cameron is correct in his assumption that Bashar al Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people - and not everyone does accept this - there is the practical problem of identifying, locating and destroying this highly mobile material. True to form, Mr Assad is likely to locate it in the densest centres of population.

Air strikes are notoriously unreliable. During the Kosovo conflict in 1999 supposedly "smart" bombs and missiles seemed no more able to distinguish friend from foe than their dumb old predecessors. Refugee convoys were hit with unerring regularity, as were hospitals and schools. It is in the nature of bombardment from the skies that collateral damage is suffered by the very people you are supposed to be protecting.

Libya has been perhaps the best model so far of supportive intervention. There were very few civilian casualties in the North African state as the West systematically destroyed Colonel Gaddafi's military hardware. This is presumably what Mr Cameron has in mind in Syria. In other words, it will not be the chemical weapons as such that would be the target, but Mr Assad's armed forces. There are plenty of strategic targets - communi­cations installations, air bases, military command posts and so on - that could be targeted with a reasonable expectation that no civilians would die.

But this might not bring the conflict to as rapid a conclusion as was the case in Libya. This is because Mr Assad, has more support than did Col Gaddafi, both in his own country and crucially abroad, including Russian and Iranian "advisers". The Syrian civil war is a hideously complex conflict in which neither side is squeaky clean. If the West piles in this week it could be aiding and abetting none other than the militants of al Qaeda - the very forces behind the 9/11 bombing - who are an active part of the rebellion against Assad and have sworn vengeance for the Damascus chemical attack.

This is carrying the doctrine of my enemy's enemy is my friend to an entirely new level. The disastrous invasion of Iraq was justified on the mendacious grounds that Osama bin Laden's people were somehow involved when they weren't. Now we are involving ourselves in a war where al Qaeda is present, but on their side. I suppose this makes sense to someone, but it is hard to understand the justification for getting directly involved in this desperate war. Surely, you feel, there must be a better way.

I am not saying military intervention is never justified. For what it's worth, I supported the military action in Libya, after Gaddafi started using anti-aircraft guns against his own people. I also supported the Kosovo conflict in 1999, when it became clear that the Albanian population were victims of brutal ethnic cleansing if not actual genocide.

I opposed the Iraq war from the start because it seemed abundantly clear in early 20O3 that the intelli­gence about weapons of mass destruction was at best unreliable, at worst misinformation. It didn't take a genius to work this out. Yet, George Bush and Tony Blair rode like drunken cowboys into that deadly affray refusing not only to wait for a second UN resolution, but also before Hans Blix's UN weapons inspectors had found anything.

If we have learned anything from Iraq, it is that you need clear intelligence about what is actually happening on the ground from the people you have sent there to collect it. Ban Ki-Moon is surely right about this. Can the West not wait another four or five days until the UN inspectors finish their work? What is the rush?

After a certain stage, the preparations for war generate their own momentum and political leaders start believing their own propaganda. Hence the notorious "dodgy dossiers" cobbled together by Mr Blair's press secretary, Alistair Campbell. The intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction was "sexed up" just as Andrew Gilligan said it was in his fateful BBC Today broadcast. The consequences were disastrous - this week we have seen how the cycle of viol­ence we started has continued to consume the Iraqi people .

The fact that Mr Blair is so gung-ho for intervention in Syria is enough for many to reject it out of hand. He is still trying to prove he was right about Iraq, despite all evidence to the contrary. In 2003 he faced down a rebellion by more than 100 of his own Labour MPs in Westminster - the largest back-bench rebellion in Labour's history. He defied the weapons inspectors, the United Nations and one million of his own British voters who took to the streets against the war.

Labour doesn't want to make that mistake again, and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, said yesterday that he would only support military intervention if it was absolutely clear that the chemical weapons had been used by Mr Assad's regime, and that the United Nations were on board. He also insisted that any action should be legal and have clear military objectives.

Legality is probably not a problem, since the intervention would come under the heading of "protecting civilians against atrocity". The military objective is pretty clear too: basically, it is to duff up Mr Assad so that he doesn't do it again. What is a problem for Labour is the UN. Any action is likely to be vetoed by Russia and China, though that doesn't mean the UN couldn't support it in a majority vote. The weapons inspectors are not likely to be able to say conclusively whether the weapons - if chemical they are - had been used by Mr Assad and not by some rebel group hoping to get the West involved.

I feel sorry for the MPs who have to decide this matter today on inadequate information and under pressure from the party whips. But not very sorry. I remember speaking to many of them on the eve of the 2003 vote. They thought then that the most advanced intelligence-gathering agencies - American and British - couldn't possibly be that wrong. They were. The more street-wise said that Iraq would be a "walk in the park", a "slam dunk", a "Tony's Falklands". In other words, an easy war that would prove that Labour PMs could be just as tough as Tory ones.

Then, it was a Republican President leading a Labour poodle. Now it is a Democrat with a Tory PM on the leash. But the lesson is the same: don't get dragged into a conflict until you are absolutely clear you know whose side you are on, that the intelligence is sound and that intervention is likely to save lives. Right now, I don't see it. The Government now appears to be moving against early action - if so that is all to the good