George Monbiot is agonising over the question of whether to put sanctions on Assad, the butcher of Syria.
Agonising because the blanket sanctions against Iraq caused 500,000 Iraqi children to die. Since then, targeted sanctions have been developed, and some have already been applied to the Assad regime: the EU has applied travel bans, frozen assets of some members of the regime and imposed an embargo on Syrian oil imports, although unfortunately Blair's friend Sylvio Burlusconi has seen to it that this embargo will not be applied until Assad has found new markets.
An investment ban is under consideration.
The real problem is that sanctions are being applied piecemeal, and after an uncertain political process, which means delay and ineffectiveness.
George Monbiot should be aware of the Green Party's Global Index of Human Rights, which sets up a framework in the UN that encourages all states to improve human rights performance. Unfortunately, last year the Green Party Conference turned down an extension of that policy that would have precisely addressed the problem posed by Arab Spring: how can the international community bring down dictators and help democratic movements without resorting to violence?
Ironically, in the debate on the "Dealing with Dictators" motion (in which all the speakers called were against the motion) one "reason" put against the proposition was that it "was not necessary". This was five months before Arab Spring kicked off.
Anyway, the point is that the UN needs to set up a framework where once a threshold has been crossed (typically the use of deadly fire against a non-violent demonstration), the regime is declared illegitimate. Sanctions targeted against members of the regime - asset freezes, travel bans - are brought in across the board. Immediate arms and oil embargoes are imposed. The regime's access to broadcasts should be curtailed by any non-violent means possible.
This is what makes the difference - the totality, with sanctions coming almost automatically from within the UN, rather than toiling our way through a political process in which one or another permanent member of the UNSC is almost certain to cause delay.
I say "almost" automatic, because there would need to be a legal review of the situation before action is taken.
I have to stress that I am just giving an outline here. There are many other aspects to winkling out a dictator, not least offering a "carrot" of comfortable retirement and suspension of legal charges if he relinquishes power voluntarily.
So George's indecision on the question of whether or not to apply sanctions can be resolved. Targeted Sanctions are the answer, but they must be applied soon, consistently, and universally.