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Are British Boots on the Ground in Syria?

Twenty months into Syria’s revolution-turned-civil war, and the potential for Western intervention still looms large: From the UK’s top general we now hear the news of a possible contingent of British troops to be sent into the carnage, as the Telegraph reports:

Gen Sir David Richards said there were contingency plans in place for a “very limited” response in the case of a worsening humanitarian situation in Syria.

The admission is the most serious warning yet that Britain is preparing for some sort of military involvement in the country. In the past week, British policy has moved from laying out plans to help organise the disparate rebel groups to discussing intervention.

The announcement comes after Prime Minister David Cameron has ratcheted up the rhetoric on the dwindling Bashar al-Assad regime. This came as a surprise to his friends at the White House, whose last public assessment of how to respond to the Syria issue—in the final presidential debate—was limited to mobilizing organizational, humanitarian and material support for some sections of the opposition. The president’s usually more-hawkish opponent Mitt Romney flat out stated that there should be no U.S. military involvement.

But the Brits seem to be thinking that we can’t go on watching this conflict unravel into neighboring countries, some of them close allies and others powder kegs in their own right, without suffering worse in the long term. The Daily Mail:

‘The main thing we are all focusing on is to contain the crisis so that it doesn’t spill over into countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey. That’s our primary focus but that would also accommodate a humanitarian crisis because we could help deal with that.’

The UK’s initiative here looks like a new chapter in “the special relationship”: In 2003 many in Britain viewed Tony Blair’s close cooperation with the Bush administration over the Iraq War as a case of Great Britain assuming a supine role with respect to American foreign policy. This time around, on the Syria question, will we see the U.S. playing catch up with Downing Street when the plans are on the table and boots are ready to hit the ground?

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