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Monday, September 09, 2013 

The PPE approach.

From the inestimable Flying Rodent:

And we'll finish with a minor point - our politicians are so keen to cast their own actions as vitally important and historic that it's difficult to avoid concluding that they're victims of narcissism.

Without wanting to completely disagree, I'd argue that politicians constantly invoke yesterday's battles because it's one of the few things they do know about.  We get all the references to appeasement and the comparisons of today's dictators to Hitler not just because WW2 is the gold standard for the "good war", but due to how the PPE graduates who reign over us seem to imagine that such talk is impressive.  It doesn't matter how outrageous the allusions are when you examine them, with John Kerry daring to make a connection between Hitler, who was responsible for the deaths of millions, Saddam Hussein, who presided over the deaths of (probably) hundreds of thousands and gassed around 5,000 Kurds (with either US support or acquiescence) and Assad, who may have given the orders for the use of chemical weapons that killed either hundreds or in the region of 1,000, it's that you create the image in people's heads that the only way to deal with such leaders is force.

By the same token, to draw back or think again is to be pitifully weak, to set a precedent that every enemy or potential enemy will never forget.  To do nothing is to be Neville Chamberlain, to allow the destruction of a country far away of which we know little.  That this doesn't make even the slightest logical sense, especially when you set the "red line" yourself is rarely brought up in response because on the international stage we must always walk tall.  It's why David Cameron had to respond to a Russian minister referring to the UK as a small country with a Love Actually-esque riff instead of just dismissing it as unworthy of response.  As a letter writer in the Graun noted, the irony of claiming to have defeated fascism while in the nation that did the most to destroy the Nazi war machine couldn't have said more about the ridiculous way our politicians continue to puff themselves up.

It wouldn't be so bad if humanitarianism genuinely was at least one motivation behind the proposed US strike.  I was against intervention in Libya, but I always recognised that the desire to protect Benghazi was real.  With Syria, as Shuggy alludes to, what we're getting is pro-war moralism.  If you're against or undecided, dead children will be shoved under your nose.  I can remember during the Lebanon war the Evening Standard openly claiming that children were being used as shields; this time round, when we know for a fact that the rebels have used children as fighters, and when children's bodies are placed together for maximum effect (and I have no objection to that, but it should at least be recognised that's what's being done) we're meant to regard the use of chemical weapons as a unique evil that cannot be tolerated.  We could ask the average Vietnamese what he or she thinks about the United States suddenly discovering the inhumanity of the use of unconventional weapons, but they'd probably be too busy laughing.

In reality, this long stopped being about the plight of the average Syrian, and it's not about chemical weapons either.  In descending order, it's about Obama having to do something because of his dumb red line, about attempting to undermine Iran and about ensuring the civil war continues.  As Juan Cole writes, the concern is that Assad could fall too quickly rather than too late, with the jihadists amongst the opposition the beneficiaries.  Seeing as even some of those we consider not to be aligned with the ISI or al-Nusra want a caliphate, it's little wonder they apparently wish to repeat the Awakening experience of Iraq.  Far from wanting an end to the violence, we seem to be hoping the conflict gets bloodier.

Such is the low we've reached that this speech by Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, is described as being the case for intervention without moralising or confusion.  In her second paragraph she brings Iran and Hezbollah into it, and already you don't need to read any further.  While the overriding reason for public opposition to a strike is war-weariness, whether here or in the US, it also has to be the case that many are fed up with being taken for fools.  You don't have to so much as followed the conflict in Syria to know that Hezbollah intervened only after the conflict had been turned sectarian by the Qatari and Saudi funded rebels, in turn supported and funded by our good selves.  You don't need to be even slightly astute to see much of the coverage, including in the broadsheets and on the BBC, to be hopelessly biased or heavily influenced by the most base propaganda.  And when you've been lied to on such a scale as we were over Iraq and WMD, it takes a lot to convince that we should get involved in a conflict where it looks as those both sides are equally caked in blood.  The Russian/Syrian offer of being putting chemical weapons under international control offers very slight hope, but only that.  Our leaders might be able to spin war, but spinning a climb down after all this?  It would be the most abject display of weakness.  We can't have that.

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