Something must be done

Blog #1

The words that should really bring a chill to us all are those above: Something must be done. It is the current political reaction to a perceived crisis. Unable to let it drift past, the contemporary media culture demands answers – or all too often actions – to every issue as it arises, so politicians and their advisors gather together in crisis meetings because Something must be done. Actually, if there is an opportunity to appear to do something, that would be the ideal answer, but doing nothing is not possible.

So it is with Syria. A complex, difficult, contradictory crisis with millions of lives dependent on how it plays out, yet because the US President said that use of chemical weapons was a red-line, and because we (as ever) agreed, now something must be done. The military, using just-retired generals to let us know their view, want to know the objectives, plans C & D after plans A and B, but they won’t get those answers. We are not planning military action in Syria to any objective, only to be seen to be doing something in response to Asad’s use of chemical weapons. Apparently, we ‘cannot sit back and do nothing.’

There are a number of questions the sceptic could raise. Why should WE do something? We have enough problems at home without invented ones abroad. We are not a world leader anymore, we are just trying to claw ourselves out of a hideous economic crisis. We do not need dangerous, foreign adventures. Except all our ‘leaders’ (I use the word in purely its technical meaning) want us to be at the ‘top table’, ‘punching above our weight’. In other words old-fashioned, willy-waving macho politics. I had hoped that by slashing the military budgets, there would be a concurrent understanding that we can’t afford to be a world policeman any longer. Sadly, I was mistaken.

So what situation is it that we are aiming to DO something in? Syria is a horrible mess, and we must all feel for the civilian population having their lives ripped apart. But this is difficult stuff. We are against Asad, so apparently support the opposition. I heard Jeremy Bowen this morning in Beirut explaining the incredulity there that the West ‘was now supporting Al Quaeda’, a prominent part of the opposition groupings. Asad’s Alawites sect may be terrified at any opposition alliance coming to power, expecting to be massacred, but the prominent Christian community also fear the opposition and will support Assad until the very end. Are we really ready to support a massacred of minority Muslims and one of the longest standing Christian churches, because we must do something? In the wider middle east we have a sectarian battle between Sunni and Shia (almost everywhere), between Islamist and secular government (almost everywhere), between a new form of Islamic democracy and military dictatorship.

This is the context into which we want to ‘do something’ apparently to ‘punish’ Assad for using the wrong weapons. Where are we placing ourselves in the above context with a mythical ‘surgical strike’ from as far away as possible? Are we aiming to ally with Islamists or secularists, Sunni or Shia? Do we want democracy, or (as in Egypt adn Palestine) are happy to support the military if democracy gives the wrong result?  But most of all, how can we intervene in a civil war and not take sides?

So desperate though the situation is in Syria, appalling though the lives are of its people, and as horrifying as the use of chemical weapons may be, in my view it is not up to us to do something. We can appear to do something, make it clear the chemical weapons use will not be forgotten, threaten things in the future, but intervene in this explosive, complex religious and political disaster that is the current middle east, no.

For once can we not learn our lessons and walk away?

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Some comments copied from Facebook:

Geoff Challinger Don't agree and I'm a total pansy. I think this is a classic instance where some form of pan-Arab force would be a better policeman than us but the principle is the same. Intervention's gone wrong but it's also gone right. Let's put our feet up and watch warring factions fight it out worked really well in Srebrenica, didn't it? And then a few months later NATO actions in Kosovo worked (ish). It should be UN-driven intervention though. Or are you're saying that no level of violence perpetrated on a population merits intervention?

Philip Jones I'm with Brian on this one. Have we forgotten Iraq? This has to be the UN - doesn't it?

Geoff Challinger UN-mandated for sure (although there is an argument that by using chemical warfare the right for the UN to intervene is already triggered). But standing on the sidelines saying "ooh that's not very nice" will assuredly not improve matters.

Peter Birks Not necessarily my view, but an excellent picture from Downing Street.

Peter Birks's photo.



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