THE chemical attack on Douma was not “staged”. This was no “false flag”, there was no Western conspiracy, and anyone who claims otherwise has misunderstood this conflict. The atrocity didn’t come out of nowhere. It fits with President Assad’s pattern of behaviour. Since the murderous civil war began, his forces have indiscriminately killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The “opposition” aren’t much better, but Assad has shown himself unworthy of leadership, and, ideally, he should be punished for his war crimes by a credible international court.

That doesn’t mean the US-UK-French bombing was a good idea. Actually, it’s a terrible idea. These are three global powers with a 100-year legacy of carving up the Middle East around their oil interests, a history that has continued well into the 21st century, much to the fury of Arab public opinion.

READ MORE: Why I support the UK’s role in the Syrian air strikes

Three governments who want to prop up the regional influence of Israel and Saudi Arabia, states who have committed their own chemical atrocities with Western-supplied white phosphorous. Three global leaders with heavy domestic problems who have every motive to rerun Wag the Dog. The bombing couldn’t come from a less legitimate source.

It also has no purpose, as serious supporters of “humanitarian intervention” admit. “This was ‘gesture bombing’ of carefully selected second-order military installations, to be seen to be doing something – but not too much,” says Lord Adonis.

“What we are witness to … is a tableau of actors striking postures designed to make the players feel better about themselves,” says political commentator Andrew Rawnsley. Either way, it’s clear that the bombing will do two things for sure: deflect from certain Western domestic woes by being “seen to do something” about an admittedly terrible civil war; and strengthen the moral resolve of Assad’s Syrian supporters. This bombing gives all the worst nationalists, Western and Eastern, something to cheer.

Most people get this. According to polls, public attitudes to the bombing range from scepticism to outright hostility. They learned a hard lesson from the Iraq War: just because a dictator is evil doesn’t mean that we will be welcomed in as saviours.

That’s why it’s completely unnecessary – not to say morally reprehensible – to defend Assad’s horror show. The overwhelming majority know that the Syrian dictatorship has done appalling things while fighting this civil war. But they also know that our “interventions” in Middle Eastern politics have a toxic combination of righteousness, legalistic hypocrisy and blatant Western self-interest which invariably leads to disaster. Look at Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya if you doubt this.

Law is meant to be blind. So, if the US-UK-French coalition seriously believed in administering it at international level, they’d set out to punish the war criminals in Israel and Saudi Arabia, their regional allies, with equal ferocity. Indeed, given our international reputation for hypocrisy, we’d get our own house in order first before meting out punishment to others. We’d start by ending state aid and arms sales to these countries until they begin complying with international law and respecting the human rights of those they govern.

Inviting Britain or America to judge international law in a Middle Eastern civil war is like inviting the Reverend Ian Paisley to referee the Old Firm. Our states are so transparently hypocritical, and so oblivious to their reputation for it, that they can never deliver justice impartially. Our interventions can only create martyrs. This isn’t an argument for “doing nothing”. It’s an argument that international actions should be carried out by those who win respect by the disinterested pursuit of peace and justice. That’s not Putin, but it’s not Britain either. Both states are built on the macho philosophy of “might makes right”. That’s why our many bombing raids have never and will never make life better for ordinary Syrians.

Domestically, the democratic implications of this bombing are severe. With strong public opposition, no parliamentary approval, and no effort to build bridges to any other party except the religious fundamentalist DUP, we have joined an ad hoc coalition led by Donald Trump, one of the least likely peacemakers in world history.

The ease with which prime ministers evade all democratic pressures on imperial matters is indicative of wider problems with the British state. At best, this system needs serious reform. A parliamentary vote is no guarantee that we will avoid misadventures. Just look at the Labour MPs corralled into voting to invade Iraq. But at least it forces the cabinet to rationalise these “interventions”, and these words can be used to restrain them in future. It also guards against the tendency for unpopular leaders to gamble on foreign policy belligerence when domestic agendas have failed.

When politicians say, “we must do something”, be very wary. The “we” here is doing a lot of work. There’s a good case for saying that humanity must do something to restrain and punish Assad. But there’s zero case for saying that a coalition of the states of France, Britain and America, of Macron, May and Trump, is a fit and proper representative of the humanitarian cause in a Middle Eastern civil war. Such a coalition, coming just months after Trump unilaterally moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, can only gladden the hearts of Assad’s supporters.

In 15 years, America has managed to make millions of Iraqis nostalgic for the days of Saddam Hussein, a dictator every bit as bad as Assad. Saddam may be dead, but many would give him a posthumous pardon based on the Iraqi experience of “Western liberal democracy”. For his crimes, Assad deserves international disgrace. But, as we know from the War on Terror, unprincipled Anglo-American “interventions” can turn even the worst tyrants into martyrs, and that’s the danger in Syria.