In general I refrain from commenting on Syria, because the politics of that country are hugely complex and I simply do not know enough about it. If in the media in general people refrained from commenting on things they know they do not clearly understand, life would be easier for readers – except, of course, that most columnists don’t understand that they don’t understand.
The West is already heavily involved in Syria, giving large amounts of cash, and channelling weapons through the vicious despotisms of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, to opposition forces, some of which are Islamic jihadist, some representing different tribal or religious power factions.
This makes life very confusing – the kidnappers and killers of UN Peacekeepers on the Golan Heights are some of William Hague’s “Good guys”, which is why those stories are so quickly glossed over. The truth is, of course, that the whole fallacy of the Blair interventionist model is that there are “good guys” in these situations who ought to be put in power by our military force, our money and the blood of our soldiers. As I explain at length in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, this “good guy” fallacy led to the British Army installing the most corrupt government on earth in Sierra Leone, and we have gone on to do precisely the same thing, installing incredibly corrupt and bad governments, in Kabul and Baghdad. Having, of course, bombed the infrastructure of Iraq back to the Middle Ages first, A great deal of fog still shrouds Libya, but I expect we will soon see clearly exactly the same thing there.
Doubtless if western intervention becomes more direct in Syria, we will there again achieve regime change and the brilliant achievement of installing a government even more corrupt than the Assad regime. Of course the political proponents of the policy don’t really care about good governance or corruption, or death in war or devastation of infrastructure. They want governments which are allied with them. The wars themselves serve the interests of the politicians’ paymasters in the arms industry, mercenary companies and logistics providers like Halliburton. The subsequent corrupt governments are supposed to be friendly to western commercial and financial interests.
The motives and mechanics of the interventionists are clear. We have seen it all before. But their own militaries have had enough of being embroiled in endless conflicts, and there are no quick win solutions in ultra complex Syria. The Israelis have been signalling very, very hard to the US that the Assad family are OK by them and the last thing that Israel wants is a genuine democracy in Syria, which might want the Golan Heights back.
Obama, Cameron et al have thus been reduced to financial and vicarious weapon supply to the anti-Assad forces, and limited numbers of special forces assisting with sabotage operations to no great purpose. Meantime, hundreds of thousands have been killed in the ongoing civil war.
There is a clue there; civil war. Nobody is attacking us, and here is a hard lesson for politicians. There are wars we should not join in. We should have a role, indeed, in urging peace and trying to deploy all the means of conflict resolution. But it is not for us to fund or arm any side in a civil war. It is not our business and we have no legal right to do so. Work for peace, yes. Fuel war, no.
Within all this, Obama’s foolish decision to make the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons a red line makes matters worse. Of course chemical weapons should not be deployed. But I am not sure whether I would prefer to die with my guts spilling out after red hot metal ripped through my abdomen, or coughing my lungs out after inhaling chemicals. That hundreds of thousands can die one way, but hundreds dying the other way would be a cause of joining in the war, is not inherently logical to me.
I remain, I should say, very sceptical of evidence produced so far that chemical weapons have been deployed. Even if they had been used, given the consequences that might follow, one has to ask by whom. The cui bono would not point to Assad, quite the opposite.
I shall return to avoiding blogging about Syria. If I can’t blog about it because it is too complex and I don’t fully understand it, think how unwise you must be to imagine that bombing it or providing still more weapons will help.