The West Has Failed Syria

Monday 21 October 2013, 5.41pm | VIDEO NOW ONLINE

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So it’s our fault, is it? It always is. The assumption behind this motion is that non-western nations like Syria must always rely on the West to get them out of a mess, and that therefore the West must be to blame if it fails to do so. But who is this “West”? Do we mean US bombers? US soldiers?  British soldiers? An EU task force? The UN security council? A mix of the above? Which one of these “Wests” would have made the present horror any less horrific? Come to that, who is this “Syria”? The Assad regime? The rebels – and if so, which ones? The  anti-western jihadis now in the ascendant or the pro-western secularists? To say “The West has failed Syria” tempts us into the dangerous belief that had we only got stuck into this conflict from the off, things would now be better. It’s a belief, as recent history shows, we badly need to resist.

So speaks the voice of caution. But are we really saying that the best the big powers can do is just sit on the sidelines and watch Syria destroy itself? Sit on the sidelines and watch a dictator use chemical weapons against his own people? The very fact the jihadis are now in the ascendant shows we have done too little too late to support what began as a genuine movement for a more liberal and democratic Syria. By holding back, by letting Saudi Arabia and other regional powers take the lead in funding the rebels, we have allowed the forces of Assad on the one side and militant Islamists on the other, to prevail. If unwillingness to help a democratic opposition seeking to overthrow a hated regime is not indicative of western failure, it’s hard to think what could be.

That at any rate, is the line taken by those who feel ashamed at our lack of greater involvement. It’s an argument with huge implications for what the West – however defined – does next. Be sure to be a part of that argument. Come to the Royal Institution on 21st October.

Speakers for the motion

Roger CohenRoger Cohen

Journalist and author who writes a weekly column for the New York Times


Sir Nigel SheinwaldSir Nigel Sheinwald

British Ambassador to the United States from 2007 to 2012, and Foreign Policy and Defence Adviser to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street from 2003 to 2007


Speakers against the motion

Paddy AshdownPaddy Ashdown

Lord Ashdown is a former Liberal Democrat leader and international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006 when he advocated decisive action by the international community

Rosemary HollisRosemary Hollis

Professor of Middle East Policy Studies and Director of the Olive Tree Scholarship Programme at City University



Jonathan FreedlandJonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, author and broadcaster


All speakers are subject to change.