On the one hand, there are clearly appalling things being done in Syria, and I feel sympathy for the desire to "do something" (although I fear the politician's syllogism). On the other hand, I completely see the argument that asks what - exactly - does this have to do with us, or (to put it another way) who appointed us as the judge, jury, and (quite possibly) executioner? There is also a very practical question arising from the sheer number of nasty things of various types happening all over the world which we are wilfully ignoring. Egypt and North Korea spring to mind without any real difficulty, I am sure there are others.
What confuses me, though, is why we have this debate again and again, and always in the heat of the moment. It's a little late to ask for this, I realise, but what we should surely be doing is to have a parliamentary debate while things are quiet, and discuss the philosophical issues around foreign interventions, and set a stance which the UK will then hold to. That stance could then be the official policy of the UK Government, and when a situation like the Syrian one arises, we could focus on the issues of proof (did Syria actually use chemical weapons?) rather than the philosophical ones.
The policy could be something like:
"Internal conflicts will, by and large, not be our concern because there are too many of them. So, we will not intervene unless:
- there is a UN decision to intervene
- there is proven use of any weapons or tactics on a specific list that we will publish
- that the conflict affects UK interests in relation to [specific list, say food, essential imports (i.e. oil), British citizens abroad, UK security, etc]
- that the conflict affects the physical borders of any of our [listed] allies and that ally asks for our help or is unable to ask for our help but clearly needs it
But that if the conflict meets one or more of these criteria then we will intervene as quickly and as forcefully as we are able."
But that's just my rough first draft, off the top of my head. I'm not especially advocating that particular set of words, the point is more that if we had a published statement of when we would intervene, rather than always making it up as we go along, then there could be an open debate on the issues of principle, we could act quickly when something does happen, and - who knows - if it became widespread then nasty regimes might think twice about using chemical weapons or the like.