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What is the Government's policy on intervention abroad?

By Paul Goodman

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As the Government concedes that Libya's dictator is likely to stay in place, Syria's dictator has appointed himself a Field-Marshall - a happenstance that will remind observers of the unresolved nature of Britain's policy on intervention abroad.

Michael Weiss notes the latter news in a comment piece for the Daily Telegraph:

"Assad has recently promoted himself to the rank of Field Marshal, a move which may strike the casual observer as just the latest in a self-aggrandising postures – I’m waiting for him to declare himself the Last King of Atlantis – but which actually hints at more severe repercussions. As Ammar Abdulhamid wrote on his Syrian Revolution Digest blog Friday: “[I]t means that the battle lines have been drawn, and that they will straddle confessional lines.”  Just as Saddam Hussein burned oil fields as his troops retreated from the coalition invasion – one last gasp of nihilistic fury – so too does his fellow Ba’athist look to destroy anything he can before his downfall. In this case, it’s an entire country."

In the meanwhile, Liam Fox has conceded that the Libyan rebels are unlikely to win a ground war.  The Daily Mail reports -

"Amid calls for a ‘wholesale’ rethink of strategy in the Libyan conflict, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the key would be whether the ‘close circle’ around the dictator realise he is a ‘busted flush’. Dr Fox also insisted Britain would take part in the bombing campaign against the regime to protect civilians for ‘as long as required’...Dr Fox admitted the rebels are unlikely to win a protracted ground war – suggesting that a real breakthrough was out of their hands and those of Britain. ‘They have always had limited capacity on the ground,’ he said.  The key for the Libyan resolution will be whether or not the close circle around Colonel Gaddafi realise there’s no point in investing in him, he’s a busted flush, he will sooner or later have to leave power."

As state-planned terror intensifies in Syria over Ramadan, which begins today, calls for foreign intervention in that country are bound to intensify.  And as confusion in Libya increases, warnings by British politicians and others are likely to increase.  Weiss's comparison between Syria and Rwanda nestles today alongside the Mail's report of Menzies Campbell's warnings about the consequences of engagement in Libya.

Whatever happens in Libya, there will be no domestic appetite for British military action in Syria.  The opinion pendulum has swung strongly against intervention since Iraq, and Cameron's throw of the dice in Libya heralded what I call a hesitant policy of "it depends" when it comes to new military ventures abroad.  Something for Mark Fox and I to quiz William Hague about when we interview him later today.

10.45am Update: Hague was on the Today programme earlier this morning.  On Libya, he stuck to saying that the action has "prevented greater bloodshed", and that Gaddafi must leave office.  On Syria, he said that a UN Security Council resolution is needed, but ruled out military intervention as "not even a remote possibility.  There is no possibility of a legal, moral, sanctioned intervention".


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