Oh, I’ve got plenty of things to say. Over the summer, I spent three weeks in America, where the citizenry still drink corn syrup for breakfast and eat bowls of bleached sugar dipped in lard for lunch. I spent two weeks in Ireland, where the good people of that island revel so much in death and misery that some humble Hibernians prefer to use rip.ie as their home page when they open up Internet Explorer (“Seamus! Seamus! Would you look at this now, Seamus! Guess who died! Go on, guess!”). It will soon be a fertile field from which to mine much pith and wit reflecting on life in general.
But first things first. War? With Syria? What are we, nuts?
Big deal. The American Londoner’s a peacenik. That wasn’t hard to call. Typical pansy liberal, right? After all, his (adopted) country voted to sit this one out while the real players (like France, because we’ve always loved the French) commit to doing all the dirty work on the front lines. Right?
But it’s not as simple as all that. Not by a long shot.
(And I’ve been meaning to say his for a while by the way, but what with being back at work, taking the boy to school yada yada… who has time in the end?)
I’d go so far as to say this is the most morally complicated case of threatened military intervention in my lifetime (Oh you don’t get me that easy).
I don’t pretend to be an expert. For balanced and more well-informed opinions, you’d have to go to Scott Erb’s excellent mainly political blog, World In Motion or The BBC or Huffpost or some gloriously legitimate and reputable news source. What follows is how I see the insanity in a subjectively truthful way from this side of the pond.
In what way is it complicated, Pete? (I hear you say) You then reach for a Teutonic comparison quicker than you can say Godwin’s Law. Assad is a barbaric dictator. It does not follow that all barbaric dictators are the same or indeed that it is the responsibility of more powerful countries to intervene on behalf of the wretched of the earth against their oppressive overlords. If recent history is any precedent or instructor, one would think it our responsibility to use those oppressive overlords to maintain the balance of power that served us best in a remote region.
Bottom line: is there a moral imperative? Well isn’t there? Aren’t we henceforth responsible for any atrocities that happen if we choose to do nothing? Aren’t the hottest places in hell then reserved for us?
Answers are good. Questions are even better. The Syrian Civil War has been going on for two years. Why haven’t we done anything before now? Chemical weapons, you say? Good point.
There we were, us not-in-my-namers, back in the naive noughties raging about Bush leading us on some bloated, ignominiously futile crusade to find WMD (eventually callously jokingin his trademark , pre-cro-magnon manner about it) and here we have a man who has actually used WMD on his own people. Put your money where your mouth is, lefties, and let’s send the troops in and smoke ’em out.
Oh. Hang on.
That last phrase certainly did sound familiar.
In fact, the last time I can remember feeling like that was when I heard our leaders say that they had “reliable” intelligence claiming that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction, which is a bit like saying you have high confidence that a dictator has slaughtered his own people.
Eerily familiar, huh?
And before you know it, you’re committed to another unwinnable quagmire of a conflict, being resented by the people you’re trying to help and doing more harm than good.
I don’t doubt that Assad probably did slaughter his own people, in their thousands. And Obama is refreshingly careful in his language compared to Bush’s bully boy tactics and cowboy diplomacy. One gets the sense that POTUS does not take these decisions lightly.
But if the chemical attack really is the smoking gun, why didn’t we remove Saddam when he slaughtered 5,000 in Halabja with chemical weapons? Why did he remain in power for another 15 years? Where were our guilt pangs and outrage when our military used white phosphorous in Fallujah in 2004, or indeed when the CIA helped Saddam to gas 20,000 Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War?
The fact is that our leaders have long lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to leading us down us down the well trodden paths of military interventionism. I don’t blame Obama for the sabre-rattling and who knows but that it may have done some good as a deterrent in the end, but there’s always a better option to war and the infliction of further untold suffering on innocents.
The worst part of this whole issue though is not the limited and unpalatable choices we are left with though. The most horrific element of all is that we have lost the ability to talk about these matters in any way that means anything. Take the picture below that did the rounds on Facebook a couple weeks back:
First of all, the president does not genuinely actively support those who commit atrocities. Second of all, the extreme and brutal elements always rise to the fore in these sorts of situations. Thirdly, as this argument is based on glib, false conclusions, it can do nothing but hinder constructive debate and solutions and can only be credited by the truly paranoid.
Our world is complex. The only way to try to make it better is to try to understand those complexities instead of shooting horrific photos at one another. We need to do nuance more often.
That’s me for tonight. Next time, back to the trials and tribulations of an American Limey expat.