President Obama's announcement that he will give Congress a vote on whether to attack the Assad regime may seem like a step back from the brink of military action for now, but it is just as likely to re-boot a slide towards ever-deeper western involvement in a widening Middle East conflict.
No doubt Congress, egged on in the spirit of response to '9/11' (what has that got to do with the Syrian civil war?), will give enough legitimacy to Obama to launch the missiles at Assad and his men. Obama will proclaim that this is a ‘limited’ action. But far from being limited, in reality a precedent will have been created that will suck the west ever deeper into the Syrian civil war. The 'limited' strike will achieve nothing except to inflame the already insoluble carnage. Very little damage will be done to the Assad war machine. More atrocities from the Assad regime will follow (with the anti-Assad atrocities receiving less publicity in the west). The action will be condemned as a failure. But paradoxically this very failure will be used as the argument for further action by the west. Plans for 'no fly zones' will be drawn up and implemented and bit by bit we will be part of the war with the Assad regime.
There will be the added danger that we are up against, in this dispute, not some isolated tyrant as in the case of the Libyan intervention, but a deadly combination of not just bewildering ethnic and political complexity but the involvement of forces with which the west is already almost at war. These include Hezbollah and Iran - not to mention a Russian presence with whom we could, in theory, actually come into military conflict. Remember the Russian's have their own military base in the Syrian port of Tartus.
The situation in Syria is so convoluted and so toxic (in many different meanings of the term) that the results of growing western intervention, will, in hindsight make western intervention in Iraq look like a blinding success by comparison. In Syria, realistically, the best that can be hoped for in the medium term is a cease-fire that will, for the foreseeable future, create an effectively divided country - with a severe danger of an internal civil war simmering amongst the rebels (and a lot of them no friends of the west). Even if western action did succeed in defeating the Assad regime, at very great cost, the ethnic divisions would remain, and rear up soon again, just as they have done in Iraq. Western involvement will make a mockery over our efforts to mediate between Israel and Palestinians since the Syrian civil war, with western involvement, will extinguish the already flickering hopes of progress. In a worst case, but still plausible, scenario, western involvement could promote a wider regional conflagration.
It is tremendously ironic that the west is cranking up its expensive war machines for 'humanitarian' purposes, when Syrians inside the country are dying and starving. Yes, they want ‘their’ side to win and be helped by the west, or Hezbollah, or whoever to help them 'win'. But if humanitarian assistance is really our aim, and not just the use of this emotive appeal to promote more war, then we should be spending on genuine food, refugee relief, medical help, not in spending on the firing of tomahawk missiles.