So the US has decided to throw a few Tomahawk missiles at the airbase from which Syria launched the planes which delivered the alleged chemical attack a few days ago.
A small part of me is thinking yeah, good. While Obama mumbled and wrung his hands and talked tough before backing down and blaming everyone else, Trump has at least shown he has the balls to make a decision. On a fundamental level, nobody is going to convince me that throwing missiles at murderous dictators, especially those who have most probably used chemical weapons on their own people, is a wholly bad thing. I had similar feelings about the Iraq War, unrelated to whether and why I supported it: kicking the shit out of the Saddam Hussein’s supposedly invincible army in a matter of days, killing his sons, and seeing him hanged in an amateur fashion from some scaffolding were, taken in isolation, things of which I approved heartily.
But that aside, I’m not overly impressed with this latest attack. As I said yesterday, Assad is there to stay: he cannot be dislodged while the Russians are supporting him. Provided he has Russian support he can, pretty much, gas who he likes. Or not. What he does or doesn’t do is up to him. I doubt anyone believes the US’ claim that this strike has limited Assad’s ability to carry out further strikes. Airfields can be repaired in hours and new planes ordered from Russia in days. If the Syrian government really wants to carry on with such attacks, it can.
What is missing is how this strike fits into an overall strategy. Yes, there is something to be said for rapid, decisive action but not if there is no coordinated followup that makes sense. It would be far better for Trump’s administration to have understood exactly what they are dealing with as regards Russia and Syria and come up with a long-term plan which puts the interests of America and its allies first and doesn’t involve making things worse or putting their citizens in harm’s way. I suspect the reason this hasn’t happened is because any such plan would involve staying the hell away from the whole mess and keeping a beady eye on Russia elsewhere. Once the western media starts filling up with pictures of dead babies and weeping relatives, a plan of this nature becomes politically unacceptable and the leadership starts lobbing missiles to show they are doing something.
Personally, I don’t think it’s completely the politicians’ fault. Having read this morning’s papers and social media, there are plenty of people – both in the Estalbishment and among the general public – who want the West (i.e. the US with some “help” from Britain) to “stop” Assad from committing any more humanitarian abuses. These voices are numerous and loud enough that politicians cannot ignore them, even if they wanted to. It is a simple fact that a policy of “fuck the lot of ’em” is not politically acceptable in the West right now.
Personally, I wish it was. Not because I wouldn’t want to help civilians being gassed by their own government, but because I honestly cannot see a solution to this. Every course of action I can think of other than “fuck ’em” has an almost zero chance of succeeding in its aims and a very high chance of making things worse. Were any Russians killed in this airstrike? I seriously hope not. I don’t have much time for the policies of the Russian government, but I really don’t want to go to war with Russia. Whether we like it or not, Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and if they are okay backing a dictator who is using chemical weapons on his own people then what the hell are we supposed to do? The only thing I can think of is to get the hell out of that useless organisation ASAP. I’m sure Trump can do something with the HQ on Manhattan’s East Side.
What I don’t get is how people can’t see that. Back in October I wrote a post about changing my mind on a major issue.
I supported the Iraq War for several reasons, one of which was I thought the Iraqis deserved the chance to be free of Saddam Hussein and run their country without him. I genuinely thought they would seize the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Arabic people are not incompatible with democracy and, so thankful that Saddam Hussein is gone, they would make a pretty decent effort to make things work.
Instead they tore each other apart and did everything they could to demonstrate that those who dismissed them as savages that needed a strongman to keep them in line were right all along. I think this was probably the most depressing aspect of the whole shambolic affair.
This is not 2003. We know from bitter, bloody experience what happens when we try to make things better by intervening with the military in that part of the world (or any). Iraq was a disaster, so was Libya. Syria we barely got involved in, thanks to a majority of sensible MPs who said “enough is enough”, but if we had there is little chance we’d not be neck-deep in a quagmire by now.
When we got involved in Iraq, supposedly to help the Iraqi people, the entire Arab world detested us, including those we ostensibly came to help. As I said here:
The US-led intervention in Iraq was deemed a “war on Muslims” and the Americans and their allies demonised in every possible way by locals and foreigners alike for how they executed the war and handled the aftermath. They were not just criticised, which would have been more than justified, they were made out to be a rogue nation, carrying out atrocities on a scale not seen since World War II. This was bollocks on stilts.
But the demonisation worked. Well done. America and its allies were detested, and eventually they left. Only a short time later when people wanted them to come back to prevent yet more butchery, they politely declined. Instead the locals got an altogether different military turning up, one whose savagery surpasses anything the Americans could dream up never mind get away with, and whose population back home would be completely unconcerned if indeed they bothered to learn about it.
At what point are Western populations going to realise that we are hated in the Middle East, probably by the very fathers of the children who were gassed and now crying out for our help? It has been demonstrated, time and time again, that when we try to do the right thing we are hated even more. Parts of the Arab world thought they would rather have the Russians than the Americans, and now they have the Russians. How is this our fault?
It’s not through moral principle that I am saying this, it is from practicality based on fourteen years of recent, bloody experience: Assad is a monster, the Russian government is showing the world exactly what they are like by backing him, and the Syrian people are suffering terribly, but there is nothing – nothing – we can do about it. It is a terrible indictment on the state of the world, but a policy of “fuck the lot of ’em” is the only workable one on the table right now. It’s high time our leaders started taking it seriously.