Syria, Machiavelli and the unspoken problem

“Politics have no relation to morals.”

It’s nice to be nice, no doubt. You have to question, though, whether bombing people (Syria) could be construed as nice/helpful/strategically sound etc, even with the most elastic definitions. The military mostly think it won’t. Plenty of otherwise sound people such as Dan Hodges and Iain Martin in the press seem to think it would. Happily – from my perspective – Parliament disagreed.  With the added bonus that Parliament has regained some of its sway, lost under previous regimes, with a remarkable volte-face by Obama as a consequence.

Beyond this however, there is the quite extraordinary fact that in all three countries involved in the initial bombing plan – the UK, the US and France – the general public want nothing to do with Obama and Dave’s project. The figures are actually pretty staggering, considering the claims made by the pro-bombing factions about it being “the right thing to do”, “lots more children will die” (sadly true, whatever you do) and so on.  There’s not much humour in it, although there is a certain entertainment value in watching unpopular and cynical incompetents all fighting for the moral high ground of dropping bombs.

Beyond that however, I reckon there is a truth that the media have yet to ponder, as on the face of it, it reflects badly on all concerned. I think it’s factually correct, although I don’t think it’s particularly good or honourable:

Many citizens of western countries, possibly the majority, don’t actually mind if Muslims kill each other.  Some view it as a positive development.

When Patrick O’Flynn of the Express did a straw poll on Twitter as to whether it would be better to have Assad or ‘the rebels’ in charge in Syria, the immediate answers were 7:1 for Assad.

That may be reprehensible, but it fits into another narrative, that of the ultimate realist, Machiavelli, who is quoted at the top of this post. It is realpolitik in the raw.  As usual,  the wider historical context explains it more clearly. Rather than look at it through the prism of dead Syrians who happened to have been gassed rather than, say, cluster bombed, the citizens of the west see this on a background of Lockerbie, 9/11, 7/7, Lee Rigby, numerous beheadings.  All of that.  If they then conclude that “these people hate us anyway”, who can blame them?

The widest historical context is something almost never mentioned by Dave, Barack and the rest: this is the ultimate civil war, in which we have very little interest in many ways.Syria is complex.

To quote from Raedwald, in a biting and superb post:

The Islamic world is packed full of young men of prime fighting age who have no jobs, no land and no futures. Median age in Europe is well over 40; in the Islamic world it’s about 27. The Sunni – Shia civil wars have already started, and like the European battles of the 1600s the war will roll back and forth across the middle east, this year in Syria, next in Yemen, then the Gulf, then Lebanon again until even Turkey is engulfed in war and the battles reach Europe’s borders. Millions are going to die. Whether it’s better to be shot, blown up by a missile, gassed, decapitated by bread-knife or dismembered by rusty Panga I don’t know but that’s the fate of millions of Muslims in the coming years, until they reach an endogenous realisation that the nuances in dogma that separate the sects aren’t worth the life of a single Muslim. 
Already the refugees are seeking Europe’s peace and shelter. Der Spiegel leads with the German reaction against the Afghanis, Iraqis, Egyptians, Libyans, Malinese. And now no doubt the Syrians are already on their way. The defence and foreign policy issues that face this government are far far greater than either Cameron or Miliband give any hint of understanding.

To quote the Italian sage twice more:

“Men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others.”

Which might just fit with Blair’s own career, Obama’s daft “red lines” promise, and Dave’s failed attempt of the past week. However, Machiavelli also offers this word of caution:

“There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless.”

The danger of power seems to be that even if you start with the first, when you enter politics, you often seem to end up with the last.

It seems so long ago...
It seems so long ago…

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