Syria: the two scorpions

Hmm…let me see…I want to kill someone with a chemical weapon: lead, trinitrophenol, copper and zinc! That should do it. My own chemical weapon.

Otherwise known as a…um….a bullet.

It might not be a poison gas, but it’s still made of chemicals, and it’ll still kill you. Quite possibly in a horrible prolonged way.

So why on earth is the use of only one kind of chemical weapon a “red line” for the armchair warriors of the White House and Downing St? Who really cares about the exact means of being bumped off by an evil dictator? It’s stupidity in extremis.

It wouldn’t matter if this bizarre and arbitrary distinction between good and bad kinds of weapons didn’t lead to consequences, but right now, it clearly does, and very unappetising open-ended ones at that.

You would have thought that after recent outcomes in Egypt (Sharia obsessed Muslim Brotherhood), Libya (militias and Al Qaeda v ‘government’), Tunisia (wobbly authoritarian coalition) and of course the Big Ones – uberviolent Iraq and Aghanistan – then cash-strapped Western powers might just want to sit Syria out.

Sunni meets Shia

Bizarrely, the political left are once again the most warlike.  John Kampfner was able to write a whole book, Blair’s Wars, because he had four to choose from: Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. The otherwise normal and likeable Blairite Dan Hodges recently wrote an extended blog on why we should intervene in Syria. The many comments in response are actually pretty eloquent, by and large, about why we should not be doing so.

There aren’t many things that the Labour Party has got right. Single figures, undoubtedly. One of the best decisions though, is not particularly well known – that in the 1960’s PM Harold Wilson very specifically declined to get involved with the Vietnam War. The Knife happens to think that Vietnam was a noble cause, and by no means the failure that it is often alleged to be. However, Wilson was right:

“The president [Johnson] raised the question, without excessive enthusiasm, of our co-operation with him in South Vietnam, even if only on a limited – even a token – basis. I made it clear that we could not enter into any such commitments. We… would have a role to play in seeking a way to peace”

Wilson took a lot of crap for that from President Johnson, but so what? It soon blew over.

The strangest thing perhaps is: where else in life would you normally commit everything you have – wealth, health, prosperity, life – to an utterly unknowable outcome, unless you absolutely had to ? Nowhere else of course, yet that is exactly what Obama and (this week) numerous commentators are heading, despite Iraq, Aghanistan etc. Perhaps a year ago the Syrian ‘rebels’ were mostly good guys. My Syrian friends tell me that those men are now mostly dead, it’s the gangsters and the terrorists who have moved in, just like in Iraq.

Without wishing to come over like a weird hybrid of George Galloway and Nick Griffin, I would simplify it and ask an easy question: what’s in it for us?

This is nothing to do with oil. The ramifications with respect to Middle East stability of Assad surviving or not, are way too complex and unpredictable to call, despite the dazzling array of experts willing to do so. I would offer the following: the deposed dictators so far all protected the Christians, and to some extent the Jews, in their countries. Their Islamic replacements are attempting to exterminate these communities, who were there before Islam even existed. For that reason alone I would take the devil I know.

A good article in the FT today, by David Gardner, narrowly seemed to favour some sort of intervention. Gardner begins:

President Barack Obama’s decision to send unspecified “direct military support” to Syria’s rebels may have as its proximate cause the now firm US conviction that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against them. But it will be seen across the Middle East as a choice by America to throw its weight behind a Sunni alliance against Iran-led Shia forces across the region – a conflict in which Syria is the frontline….How could it be otherwise when, after two years of dither, the White House moved on the same day as a conclave of Sunni clerics meeting in Cairo declared a jihad against what it called a “declaration of war on Islam” by “the Iranian regime, Hizbollah and its sectarian allies”?

Supporting the rebels means supporting the Sunni’s: a very high risk strategy. Gardner goes on:

There is a certain school of realism that believes it is better to let the Shia Islamists of Hizbollah and al-Qaeda sympathisers such as the rebel al-Nusra front fight it out, like scorpions in a bottle.

…and unless Parliament votes otherwise, that’s the view that the UK should hold to.


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