We can't just say 'arm Syrian rebels' – we must be clear what this means | Frank Ledwidge

The past decade suggests we’re not very good at understanding the dangers of taking the liberal intervention path

With Syrian forces reported to be moving on areas around Syria’s second city, Aleppo, the cause of so-called liberal interventionism appears to be receiving a boost. “The regime has chemical weapons and is using them; we cannot stand by,” goes the argument. Not wishing to frighten the horses with talk yet of “boots on the ground”, we hear “arm the rebels” instead. Unless we do, says General Salim Idriss, chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army, who seems to command very few troops on the ground, those same rebels will not attend any peace talks.

The first question any sensible politician needs to ask is: “If we’re doing this, with what kind of weapons shall we ‘arm the rebels?’ What can we provide over and above the more than $3bn of weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar?” Let’s assume that those “rebels” who are minimally militarily competent are not jihadists linked to al-Qaida who learned their trade killing British and American soldiers in Iraq.

Let’s also assume, rightly, that jets, artillery and tanks …read more