Two thirds of Britons oppose military intervention in Syria. I can’t say I blame them, after what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As one of the very few people who supported military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, I find it harder to justify to myself intervention in Syria than I did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan was a no-brainer for me. In that instance, one of our NATO allies had been attacked by a rogue regime, and, as a point of fact, 9/11 was the single worst terrorist act against British citizens in our history. In that situation, our NATO obligations compelled us quite justifiably into action against the Taliban regime in power in Afghanistan.
The issue over in Iraq was clouded by the dodgy dossier scandal, but again was a relatively easy call for me to make, because Iraq had flouted the terms of the ceasefire following the first Gulf War. On that one fact alone, we were perfectly entitled to bring that conflict to an end, despite all the other debate about its legality. For those of us who have a reasonable grasp of history, we saw echoes in Saddam’s attitude towards the international community of an earlier moustachioed bully. The fact that we hadn’t deposed Saddam after Desert Storm had been a blunder. Simply put, Saddam should have been removed following his invasion of Kuwait. This would have sent out a clear message that such actions were intolerable. Unfortunately, as much as the US and UK military would have preferred to remove him from power at that time, our international mandate was merely to remove him from Kuwait.
The international community (i.e. the U.N.) needs to have clear, unambiguous policies on the use of WMDs and the legal or military consequences of regimes using them. Saddam used them against the Kurds and now it appears that Assad’s regime has used them against Syrian rebels and civilians, although this is yet to be confirmed.
Obama and Cameron have both quite rightly made noises along the lines of such action being a ‘red line’, but it should not be the United States and United Kingdom which are yet again left to do the right thing on behalf of the international community.
It is time yet again for the international community to step up to its obligations and for the United Nations to act decisively.
Unfortunately, as was the case with Iraq, the likelihood is that Russia will (especially given its support of Assad’s regime) veto any decisive military action on the part of the United Nations. China will probably exercise its veto too, in the same way that Russia, China, and France (the three largest suppliers of weapons to Saddam by a large margin) did ten years ago, effectively rendering the United Nations irrelevant. Assad, like many before him, will see the United Nations for what it really is: an increasingly irrelevant talking shop, with no real power in terms of reining in rogue states.
Faced with such an outcome, this leaves those nations of the world which possess a good grasp of history to act on behalf of the international community. They will not be thanked for such action: quite the opposite. Most of the general public will oppose military intervention because in doing so it can proudly proclaim its anti-war credentials, and it’s easy to be anti-war. Nobody likes warmongers.
Nevertheless, even for those of us who believe in military intervention when appropriate, the situation in Syria is not a clean-cut situation. Both sides have behaved equally terribly in the conflict. One need only do some basic research to find accounts and videos of hideous mistreatment of combatants from both sides. The sight of two of Assad’s soldiers being doused in petrol in a ditch and then immolated to the cries of ‘God is great’ did not paint the rebels in a particularly favourable light in my mind.
It is true that a number of the rebels are democrats, but their comrades in this conflict include a range of Islamist groups including Al Qaeda, and as much as I am not averse to the notion of our enemy’s enemy being our friend in conflicts, I struggle with the idea of us supporting any side with Islamist tendencies. We do not know the ‘end game’ in Syria in the case of a victory on either side.
I’m sorry to say that in the current situation, given what we’ve all been through over the last few years, I find myself in the position of one of those people who, in this situation, tends to oppose military intervention by the United Kingdom (or those of our allies who share a sense of common human compassion) – not because I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, but because the Realpolitiker in me believes that the consequences for our country and indeed our close allies will be negative. Ultimately, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that the responsibility of a government is to protect its people and not to send our troops to fight in other people’s wars, as noble as the notion of humanitarian intervention may be.
It is the United Nations’ responsibilty to resolve these conflicts and if, once again, it is emasculated by unwillingness on the part of its members to do the right thing, I see no reason why we and our allies should bear the responsibility with our money and our soldiers’ blood. History will just have to repeat itself, and perhaps we will have to face the horrors of another genocide further down the line.
Many on the New Left in particular, historically prepared to meddle in other people’s affairs (e.g. the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War), no longer have any qualms about decrying any military intervention or ‘imperialist military adventures’, which predictably are always ‘about oil’, or any other of a number of keenly gobbled-up Internet-derived conspiracy theories.
No, isolationism seems to be the way to go when it comes to the unpleasantries of dealing with nasty dictators and rogue regimes. Certainly, minding one’s own business seems pretty de rigueur for many very successful nations, and most of the UK’s population seems to share this view.
Ultimately, why should I and my ilk be the unpopular warmongers among the blissfully indifferent peacemakers? Better to stick our heads in the sand too.