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Wednesday, August 28, 2013 

What we needs another war!

Of the many great moments in Peter Jackson's splatter satirising opus Braindead, only one has any real significance in connection with the march to war against Syria, but thankfully it's a damn good one.  Oblivious to the fact that Lionel has just about managed to patch up his quickly zombifying mother to welcome the local head of the women's welfare league, the conversation turns to the lethargy and inaction of young people.  "What we needs another war!", declares the husband, banging the table.

Our politicians and most commentators wouldn't for the most part be so unsubtle.  After all, we are still nominally fighting a war as it stands, although Afghanistan is just about as forgotten as it's ever been.  The same line of thinking is most certainly there, though.  While we thankfully aren't as quick to look towards "military solutions" as our cousins across the Atlantic, where certain congressmen have seen fewer foreign nations they wouldn't bomb than those they would, it's about as far from being the last resort as ever.  If we do involve ourselves in action against Syria, it will be the fourth major conflict we've been involved in since 9/11, or alternatively, if you prefer to go back to 97 and the ascent to power of a certain Tony Blair, the sixth (Sierra Leone, Kosovo).  Whichever timescale you chose, the threat to this country from outside powers during and up to now has remained almost exactly the same, namely miniscule.

The allusion almost everyone is making, understandably, is to Iraq.  Iraq it has to be remembered was not disastrous for either the Americans or ourselves in terms of military defeat; our losses were fewer than those we've suffered in Afghanistan, while public opinion in the US turned against the war more because of the lack of progress rather than the numbers killed and injured, which were low compared to those of Vietnam.  The disaster was meant to be that we failed to plan for what happened after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and that the justification for the war, weapons of mass destruction, had in fact long been destroyed.

Except, as was demonstrated in Libya, we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  We hadn't forgotten the mistake of trying to occupy Iraq and govern it, even in the short term, so we didn't.  Instead, we let the various rebel factions get on with it themselves, the result being the stand off between militas that's continuing now.  The lesson that seems most obvious from Iraq, that of not hitching ourselves to the military adventurism of the United States when we don't have to, was seemingly turned on its head by Cameron and friends being more belligerent against Gaddafi than Obama was.  With Syria, despite again our representatives having seemed more gung-ho over the past two years than the Obama adminstration, we now once again seem to be determined to act as both lawyer and bombing understudy of Team America (you may add your own fuck yeahs).

Going to the United Nations at this point, despite both the US and ourselves having argued repeatedly over the past few days that we don't need a security council resolution for bombing Syria to be lawful, just reminds fatefully of both Iraq and Libya.  The likes of Jack Straw and Blair himself continue to maintain that any chance of a second resolution explicitly authorising action against Iraq back in 2003 was scuppered by Jacques Chirac saying he would veto one in any circumstances; in fact he said he would veto one at that precise time.  It was enough for Blair to argue that the UN route had run its course.  Now we again have the UN itself asking for more time for inspectors to do their work, while we've taken a resolution to the council this time knowing for a fact that the Russians will veto it.  And also again, we have those claiming that the inevitable stalemate will condemn the UN to the status of its predecessor.

To suggest that this is once more a mess of our making, having so thoroughly abused UNSC 1973, seems to be to make yourself even more unpopular.  That resolution, despite calling for negotiations between the two sides and upholding an arms embargo, authorised all necessary means to protect civilians, just as the proposed resolution today does the same.  Our politicians are asking us to trust them this is going to be just a one-off response to the "moral obscenity" of large scale use of chemical weapons, while at the same time preparing the ground for exactly the same sort of campaign as was waged in Libya.  To call it duplicitous doesn't even begin to do it justice.

Most remarkable of all is that whereas you expect those who were in favour of the Iraq war to support this latest foreign excursion, and to also make the exact same arguments now as they did then, those who ought to know better are joining them.  Alan Johnson writes an especially pompous open letter to Owen Jones in which he concludes that a one-off strike aimed at certain targets would re-establish deterrence and make Assad think before using chemical weapons again.  Well, perhaps it might; alternatively, if we're being honest about it truly being a one-off, then why wouldn't he use them again once the heat is off?  Are we then going to do this all over again?  Are we certain an attack will have a deterrent effect when the sites likely to be hit have been so widely disseminated, and when Russia is more than happy to replace any destroyed weapon systems?  Is it of no consequence that countless wars have metastasised after what were meant to be limited interventions?  And still no one seems to want to explain why this particular crime against humanity is so much worse than all the others that have been committed in Syria by both sides.

The one key difference this time is that unlike in the cases of both Iraq and Libya, neither the public nor the press are fully on side.  Ed Miliband is currently tying himself up in knots over whether to support the government, apparently determined to live up to the accusation of being weak rather than just oppose the whole wretched process, but seems likely to end up urging his party to vote in favour of tomorrow's motion.  Marx's now cliched aphorism was that history repeats, first as tragedy, then as farce.  In his day, governments didn't have to listen to their people.  In the modern age, it seems to be the people who learn while politicians and their cliques refuse to take lessons from anyone or anything.

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