In interviews to BBC radios this morning about America’s attack on Syria, I kept calling Assad Saddam. No wonder, of course. They were fellow Ba’thists and genocidal monsters, and they both used gas on civilians. Unfortunately, the world didn’t act on Halabja then If it had, much suffering and possibly wars might have been avoided. But it was a little more difficult then. When Jalal Talabani telephoned me to tell me about it for The Times, even I, a man of Kurdish upbringing and a friend of his, had difficulty believing him. How could a government which was a member of the UN and had embassies everywhere dare to use banned weapons to inflict such lingering deaths on its own citizens on a such a large scale! It took us three days to put a paragraph in the paper. The horrifying pictures emerged much later. So Saddam got away with it, and he was emboldened. Margaret Thatcher even proclaimed that the reports were ‘controversial’ and so doubled Saddam’s Export Credit Guarantees to £390m.
Hopefully now, the new Saddam will not dare do it again. He has been punished to the minimum extent possible, but significantly enough, and must know that if he persists he might lose the whole of his airforce . And we must welcome America’s hardening of tone on his future. Nor am I worried about a confrontation with Russia. Putin would be humiliated in any aerial confrontation with Western airforces. He is only a paper tiger allowed to flourish by weak Obama.
In the end, however, out of concern for the survival of the Alawite minority in Syria, we must hope and work for a negotiated settlement in which – without the Assad regime – they would have a veto over a future constitutional settlement. The same must go for the Kurds of Syria, whose valour and resilience in standing up against Ankara and Islamic State have surprised even me and earned the admiration of the world.