Syria: Fuck the lot of ’em!

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.

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27 thoughts on “Syria: Fuck the lot of ’em!

  1. Besides everything else, do you think it is merely coincidental that they struck just as Trump’s was meeting with Xi?

  2. Ah- I think there is some kind of moral imperiative to do something like sling a few missiles at someone who is acting the twat.

    The alternative is standing around fiddling with our balls.

    Irrespective of what happens down the line, sometimes the right thing to do is to say ‘fuck it- here’s a taster of what we’ll do next, unless you behave’

    The stuff that followed Saddam being turned into a Christmas tree ornament isn’t the west’s fault. Bunch of loons want to cut their neighbours heads off and wear them as hats whilst fucking goats? Fine by me.

    Fuck with us, though, and we’ll come back and do unto you what we did to Saddam.

    Rinse and repeat til the message gets through.

    Not intervening is worse than all alternatives, morally and practically.

    Obama’s plan was something akin to trying to talk a mugger out of stabbing you through Socratic reasoning. Futile in avoiding harm, and wasted on the audience

  3. Although I accept your point about political acceptability in the west.

    Yes- the pictures of civilians killed in air strikes are depressing.

    Whether they are more depressing than pictures of drowned refugee babies or kids Assad gasses himself is another matter.

  4. I’m with Bastard Sq.

    Trump says it’s a one-off for the use of chemical weapons. If he sticks with that, it sends the message and avoids future entanglement.

    If……

  5. Bardon has a point that was my thought too.

    Basically I agree with our host that objectively non-intervention is the least worst option.

    Furthermore, I think it is high time our politicians collectively grew a pair, and started actually stating obvious facts like this, while at the same time taking effective action to end uncontrolled illegal migration in the med.

    It is high time the mainstream media led by the lamentable BBC and the sadly reduced broadsheets started holding our politicans to account and making them justify properly any intervention by means other than hand wringing and tragic photos of dead babies, who were anyway probably killed by their own side, if such an archaic concept still exists in that fratricidal, genocidal blood bourbignon.

  6. Ah- I think there is some kind of moral imperiative to do something like sling a few missiles at someone who is acting the twat.

    Yes.

    Irrespective of what happens down the line, sometimes the right thing to do is to say ‘fuck it- here’s a taster of what we’ll do next, unless you behave’

    Yes.

    The stuff that followed Saddam being turned into a Christmas tree ornament isn’t the west’s fault. Bunch of loons want to cut their neighbours heads off and wear them as hats whilst fucking goats? Fine by me.

    Yes.

    Fuck with us, though, and we’ll come back and do unto you what we did to Saddam.

    Yes.

    Rinse and repeat til the message gets through.

    And yes.

    Not intervening is worse than all alternatives, morally and practically.

    Unless we’ve intervened repeatedly in the past in a completely cack-handed and ineffective fashion that makes us look weak but need to be seen to be doing something. Which is where we are.

  7. Trump says it’s a one-off for the use of chemical weapons. If he sticks with that, it sends the message and avoids future entanglement.

    So the price for using chemical weapons against your own population is, in 2017, the temporary loss of an airfield and a handful of planes? This seems awfully cheap.

  8. @Newman

    I flashed to the deli scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ reading your response.

    I think the way to deal with situations like this starts with what’s just happened… and then repeats regularly, every time the line gets tested.

    All any competent leader needs to do is show that they are still keeping an eye on the situation and are paying attention. Next time Assad decides to bomb his population- take out a palace of his. When he next sends the troops into a neighbourhood, sink a few of his warships (or whatever). Just show him you are still in the game, and are prepared to sit at the table for as lon lg as it takes for the message to get through.

    The wester political process- security council resolutions and all that shit, is geared towards big one time decisions- “do we bomb?”, “do we put boots on the ground?”.

    Trump can steal a match by taking unilateral small steps- just harass Assad, starting off with a slap for a large transgression, and slowing starting the slap for smaller things.

    He’ll pick up on the trend.

    If you can’t remove him, fence him in- teach him that he can’t do much without some expensive and vital bit of his apparatus of power suddenly being vapourised.

  9. I flashed to the deli scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ reading your response.

    Heheheheheh!

    All any competent leader needs to do is show that they are still keeping an eye on the situation and are paying attention. Next time Assad decides to bomb his population- take out a palace of his. When he next sends the troops into a neighbourhood, sink a few of his warships (or whatever). Just show him you are still in the game, and are prepared to sit at the table for as lon lg as it takes for the message to get through.

    If you can’t remove him, fence him in- teach him that he can’t do much without some expensive and vital bit of his apparatus of power suddenly being vapourised.

    That’s as good a plan as any. Until the western media and opportunistic politicians start listing the number of children killed every time the US bombs a sarin storage unit in the middle of the desert.

  10. “The only thing I can think of is to get the hell out of that useless organisation ASAP”

    Sorry sir, one simply cannot opt out of our system, unless of course you and your nation permanently left our planet. Its not like we have any of that Article 50 type nonsense here at the UN, this is the Hotel California.

    But yes we hear your appeals for change and we are open to some type of major reform and if we can count on your unswerving support then we would like to start implementing it this year.

    “Indonesia was the first member to attempt to withdraw from the UN. On New Year’s Day, 1965, Indonesia, due to its ongoing confrontation with Federation of Malaysia, announced that it would withdraw from the UN if Malaysia were to take a seat on the Security Council. Three weeks later, Indonesia officially confirmed its withdrawal in a letter to the Secretary-General, who merely noted the decision and expressed hope that Indonesia would soon “resume full cooperation” with the organization. After a coup later that year, Indonesia sent a telegram to the Secretary-General saying the country would “resume full cooperation with the UN and […] resume participation in its activities.” Pointing to the telegram as proof that Indonesia saw its absence from the UN as a “cessation of cooperation” rather than a true withdrawal, the General Assembly’s president recommended that the administrative procedure for reinstating Indonesia be taken with a minimum of fuss. No objections were raised, and Indonesia immediately resumed its place in the General Assembly. Thus, the questions raised by the first case of withdrawal from the UN were resolved by treating it as if it had not been a withdrawal at all.”

  11. @ Tim N

    Fair point- but to reiterate: presently all we are doing is allowing dictators to make the running. It doesn’t matter (apparently) how many they kill, so long as we do what we do with nary a hair being harmed. Christ- some people complained when we took out Husseins army!

    This is infantilising the western populace.

    Leaders need to be honest- ‘ folks, were bombing this dipshit because he’s massacring tens of thousands of his own people. We may kill a few bystanders- we’ll try not to, but we may do. Sorry in advance. But we don’t have a choice, not unless you want us to stand by whilst thousands die. Put your big boy pants on, now, and watch how we are going to do things from now on’

    Anything less is ineffective and dishonest

  12. Bastard,

    Indeed, I think it’s ridiculous, but that is the current reality. To deal with things like Syria more effectively we need a different set of politicians and a different population electing them!

  13. @TimN,

    I agree on the politicians, but respectfully point out that there’s been more than one instance at the polls recently where the grubby masses have been surprisingly resistant to the established political norms.

    If people were too grown up to fall for project fear, and saw through the SNP on indyref 1, what makes us think they wouldn’t take a sane view on Intervention in Syria?

  14. If people were too grown up to fall for project fear, and saw through the SNP on indyref 1, what makes us think they wouldn’t take a sane view on Intervention in Syria?

    They might. I think they would prefer a policy that lies somewhere between mine and yours. 🙂

  15. I’m with Bastard Square on this. A proportionate warning from the US. Also helps with Trump’s desire to be seen as unpredictable. Can’t fault it really – except for it being against the US constitution.

    May of course also be the opening salvo in a war with the purpose of creating King Abdullah of Greater Syria.

  16. To be honest- I’d like one that’s more like yours- decisive action, followed by a strategy to hand stuff back once the head-wearing, goat-fucking numpties have been sorted.

    My point was more that ‘little and often’ may be an option that produces better short term results than shock and awe, at a more acceptable cost.

    I sort of see the behaviour of (e.g.) Assad as being like a pressure vessel- the longer we wait to do anything, the more cataclysmic even a small intervention can be.

    Your subsequent post reinforces this- the post war concensus could have just stored up 70 years of violence. The odd bit of limited scale fisticuffs ever 5 years might be a better way of keeping the loons in check- rather than 40 years of indulgence followed by WW3

  17. My spelling and grammar is fucking terrible today. It’s taking a week away in Germany I think- I’ve gotten tetchy and am suffering an almost insurmountable urge to create unwieldy compound nouns.

  18. “I’m with Bastard Square on this. A proportionate warning from the US. Also helps with Trump’s desire to be seen as unpredictable”
    Ditto from me. It’s the use of cruise missiles as an educational device. Back in the day, we had the concept of the “punitive expedition” as a way of creating a relatively favourable structure of incentives. It doesn’t solve problems but it creates or reasserts a set of limits. At any rate it is vastly superior to announcing a “red line” that then goes unenforced.

  19. The number of people agreeing with me is both novel and concerning.

  20. The number of people agreeing with me is both novel and concerning.

    Indeed. I run this blog to get people marvelling at *my* wisdom, not that of my bloody commenters. I feel some Murphyesque deleting and blocking coming on…

  21. I have to disagree with the line taken by most here.

    In the ME you have either despots or religious maniacs. Both will kill children. Despots keep a more orderly house and don’t have designs on our civilisation. Prior to Iraq and the Arab spring many of these place seemed to have found some sort of equilibrium under the aegis of a bunch of utter shits.

    Western intervention in these messes is and has always been utterly worthless. Not the slightest drop of Western civilisation has rubbed off on Afghanistan for example.

    It’s horrible. People will die. Horribly. But that’s what they’ve always done and what they will do until these stupid fuckers adopt civilisation. It doesn’t have to be ours. Japan is probably the most civilised place in the world and they aint like us.

    Disengage; redirect the budget to border control, with a bit of funding for repatriation.

  22. It marks Trump’s surrender to the US Establishment – the “deep state” if you like.
    He held out for only a couple of months. Lacks a titanium spine and a steely intellect I suppose.

    Ah well, it was worth the gamble. At least the Clinton racketeers and traitors aren’t infesting the White House directly.

  23. “It marks Trump’s surrender to the US Establishment – the “deep state” if you like”

    Yes and his alienation from his loyalist support base, he may well have just become a sitting duck, keeping the nest warm for Pence and all before his 100th day in office.

    With all of this drama unfolding in Washington we also got things like this going on elsewhere.

    “We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control. And I have ordered the Armed Forces to occupy all – these so many islands, I think nine or 10 – build structures and place the Philippine flag,” Duterte told reporters in Palawan yesterday.

    “In the coming Independence Day, I might, I may go to Pag-asa Island to raise the flag there,” he said.

    “Mukhang agawan kasi ito ng isla eh (There seems to be a scramble for islands). And what’s ours now at least kunin na natin (we should claim) and make a strong point there that it is ours,” he added.

    http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/04/07/1688529/duterte-orders-afp-occupy-philippine-islands-south-china-sea

  24. Pingback: Streetwise Professor » Trump, Putin, and the Tomahawk Chop

  25. Obama and Clinton’s response remind me of an old troop Sgt we had when I was on a course in Catterick. He was always giving last final warnings for some transgression or other but never carried them out. As we were all senior Cpls we took full advantage.

    Bastard Square’s plan is as good as any I’ve seen. I know we don’t go around assassinating Heads of State but I would add to the plan taking out the head of the Army, Air force or security forces to that plan as well. Hound them until nobody wants the job.

  26. @BiND

    I’ve never worked out why it’s not on to take out the leaders.

    I’m all in favour of he who gives the orders being assassinated, rather than 100k of the poor order followers

  27. A smart move by Trump. “I do what’s right by me. Deal with it.” Also, 59 is pretty impressive compared to Russia’s 26 rockets in the 2015 cruise strike from the Caspian. The attack was cheap (the rockets had to be used or scrapped) and came with almost no downside. No credible civilian deaths so no fodder for the human rights posse. No American casualties. Practice for the navy. Sending messages to Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow.

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