Syria: Something must be done – I mean, anything!

Some people object that we couldn’t have known that Assad would turn out like this


It must be heartbreaking for many of these people who were looking forward to some bombing in Syria. One of them was on Question Time, trying hard to make a strategic case for war, but so frustrated he looked as if he was about to shout “Oh look it’s not FAIR – I wanted MISSILES and EXPLOSIONS and the bloke who wrote Bravo Two Zero on Sky News guessing what would be blown up next. I WANTED it. I WANTED it. I HATE that Putin.”

Their catchphrase is, “We can’t stand idly by”, whenever a war seems possible. If it’s suggested that military intervention will almost certainly make things worse they say “But we have to do SOMETHING,” as if it doesn’t matter what. Maybe there’s a case for that, and seeing as the route to bombing Syria is blocked for a while, the army should be asked to burn down a random village in Somerset. Survivors of a helicopter gunship attack on Templecombe will complain about cruise missiles coming through the cowshed, cluster bombs spoiling the tea shoppe and the struggle of living in a refugee camp in Yeovil, but they can be reassured “Yes but we have to do SOMETHING.”

Eventually it could be a legitimate defence in all criminal cases. Barristers will tell the judge that their client regret any collateral damage from the armed robbery on the old people’s home, but he for one was not prepared to stand idly by.

Because the main issue, for some supporters of military action, appears to be finding a way to not feel bad in ourselves. Then in the future, when people ask what we did to oppose the horrors of President Assad of Syria, we can say “I did my bit. I sat in a pub and said we can’t stand idly by.”

If you’re sceptical of this approach, you can’t help wishing there was some recent example of Western military intervention, against an Arab dictator we’d previously backed but suddenly discovered was evil and had to bomb as we couldn’t stand idly by, then we might have more clues as to the possible outcome of getting involved in a war with them.

Presumably, those people who were most eager for war in Iraq, on the “must do something” grounds, are pleased with how that turned out. Because whatever else opponents of the war might say, there’s no disputing that the war did do something.

Among its achievements were to make the situation incomparably more violent than before, enraging the people we claimed to be protecting, and discovering the weapons that were the premise for the whole escapade didn’t exist. At this point, I suppose the politicians who’d supported the war said: “This invasion has led to utter carnage. We insist on supplying Semtex to the suicide bombers, as we have to do SOMETHING.”

For some people the current anguish about Assad must be especially frustrating. Tony Blair for example, supports bombing him, so how he must wish he’d done it when he had the chance. Because Blair invited him here as a special guest, so special he was put up in a bedroom in Buckingham Palace. The poor Queen can’t have had much say in this, and may now have to answer questions from social security, as that bedroom is unlikely to be occupied by Assad again which makes it a spare room and liable to cause a reduction in her annual allowance.

Some people object that we couldn’t have known that Assad would turn out like this, as if he was such a pussycat back then that to not sell him weapons would have been downright rude. It was true his path to power hadn’t complied with every modern aspect of democracy, in that he took over from his father without a single vote anywhere in the country, but his wife loved to shop at Harrods and you can’t get much more modern and democratic than that.

The same process repeats itself now. We sell billions of pounds worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, adamant that they use them responsibly, as they assure us water canon for example won’t be used against dissenters. And we should take them at their word – it’s much more that likely they’re to be installed as extreme car washes across the desert.

So it could be argued that one way to deter atrocities by dictators is not to sell them the weapons that a few years later we have to do SOMETHING about. In other words, when they ask us for lorryloads of weapons we must be prepared to stand idly by.

As well as these problems, in Syria there’s the conundrum that many of the rebel groups are linked to al-Qa’ida. To get round this, it was reported yesterday, “the CIA has a vetting process to decide which rebels to support”. That’s reassuring then, if there ever is a point when we’re sending weapons out there. Maybe each group will have to fill in a form, as if it’s a community hall applying for a grant from lottery money. Only if the CIA are really impressed with how they answer the question: “How will you use the aid to build cultural bridges between the diverse elements of age and gender within your locality” will they get a truck full of anti-aircraft missiles and a flame thrower.

Because arming Jihadists and groups fighting the same Jihadists and groups fighting a dictator and the dictator – all that may have its critics, but at least it’s something.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions