The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, is coming to a bloody end — and, despite so many deaths that the United Nations essentially stopped counting, Bashar al-Assad is victorious.
Idlib, the besieged home of the remaining Syrian rebels who fled as regime forces retook the rest of the country, will soon be added to the tragic list of cities whose names bring shame on his regime: Aleppo, Douma, Homs.
The refugee crisis is only likely to intensify. Back in 2013, our parliament voted against taking military action against Assad after his chemical assault on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.
The vote, brought by David Cameron, was lost due to Ed Miliband’s decision to instead back a “sequential road map” towards peace. Cameron’s defeat panicked Barack Obama, who lost his nerve despite Assad breaking his “red line” on the use of biological weapons.
By the time Britain took direct military action in 2015, the target was Isis — who had swept into the vacuum created by the West’s decision to look the other way.
By the time the US took direct action against Assad, the triumph of Iran and Russia as players in the country, and the region, was essentially complete.
There is no way of knowing whether Britain and the US taking action in 2013 would have changed the tide of the war, or kept innocent civilians alive. Perhaps it would, as so many feared, have dragged the West into another unwinnable war in the Middle East.
Those are academic questions; and while the responsibility for the bloodshed in Syria lies at the feet of Assad, Islamist militia and governments that thrive on upending the global order, we can certainly see what inaction looks like. Syria is lost. But for Britain the lesson must be clear that whilst it may not be the global power it once was, it must take its place at the top table.
There are many Brexit optimists who think we will be freed to do so — but the signs so far are not overwhelming. For one, the Munich Security Conference — the Davos of foreign policy — was almost entirely devoid of British influence, with a junior minister and a senior civil servant the most high profile in attendance.
It was noted: Nancy Pelosi, who was there as part of the largest American delegation ever, said she hoped “it’s not an indication of their commitment to multilateralism.” Global Britain is a wonderful slogan, but it must mean something: this government must not give in to resigned isolationism.
Main image: Getty