Thursday, August 29, 2013


Like Alex Massie, I supported the Iraq War long after most people had decided it was a bad idea. Partly out of a sense of necessary consistency: I was in favour of the war before it started (on the grounds both that it was more likely than not that Saddam had or was trying to get hold of WMD, and that he was a destabilising regional force whose removal would be both relatively straightforward, and good for peace in the region); I ought therefore to remain supportive when things went tits-up.

I think Alex says all that needs to be said about how well this position stands up to historical scrutiny.
And there was something else too, something which gave the argument greater urgency: this was to be the great cause of our time, the great project that justified the expenditure of blood and gold in pursuit of a noble, historic, objective. This would be the anti-piracy or anti-slavery movement of our time.

So it has been a chastening decade. It did not work out like that and all that youthful certainty seems like reckless hubris now. But there is no point or advantage in denying how it seemed at the time.

Where are we on Syria then? The best analysis here comes, oddly perhaps, from The Onion. In an impressively dark satire, 'Assad' sets out the options for Western intervention: bombing, missile strikes on specific chemical weapons locations, no-fly zones, doing nothing, or a full-scale invasion. Most of them are unappealing and some of them are impossible. There's nothing we can do: but nor can we do nothing

Obviously, at a time like this everyone becomes an expert in both foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular - there's nothing like a foreign policy flashpoint for waking up the armchair strategists. Not me though. I haven't a clue what the West should do, if indeed it should do anything at all. Whereas with Iraq there was a clear objective (remove Saddam, even if this wasn't exactly spelled out at the time) and clear means to achieve that objective, I don't see that either applies to Syria. Do we want the rebels to 'win'? If we do, can we achieve that? If we don't, what do we want?

I just wish I thought someone knew the answer to these questions.


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