Blair's ghost hovers over decision to avoid Syria
Well it's Monday morning again and I bet you're just dying to hear what I think about the Syrian crisis.
No? Thought not.
Events like these really highlight what a big hungry machine the news media have become. Those empty hours of radio time, the garish studio seats awaiting wise bottoms, the forests of weekend newspapers chewing over the same old cud, journalists reduced to interviewing each other, and goodness-knows-what going on in the Twittersphere.
So should we have toshed the Syrians to teach them a lesson? Or should we just let them get on with it? Welcome to the moral maze.
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Size really matters in these conundrums. There was never much doubt that the West could overcome Saddam's creaking defences, or that it could occupy Afghanistan, as many have done before, to their sorrow. But we wouldn't dream of threatening well-equipped states like, for example, Israel over its human rights abuses; we wouldn't turn our fire on Pakistan or North Korea with their barely stable nuclear arsenals; we don't even squeak at Russia's horrible record, or China – I see that Intercontinental Hotels are even now erecting a new complex called the "Lhasa Paradise" over the bones of slaughtered Tibetan nuns and monks.
So our moral disgust has a cautious side, just as it did in the school playground. Watch out, he's a bit big... Tony Blair always reminded me of the chummy one who pretended to be your friend while sucking up to the biggest bully in the yard. He's still parading his perma-tan around the world's more agreeable hotels giving his elder-statesman number to anyone who will pay, but he more than anyone muddied our moral waters. Although his team used whatever dingy, dodgy underhand artifices they could dream up to persuade us into Iraq, too many decent citizens just couldn't conceive that a British Prime Minister would lie us into a conflict.
They conceive it now alright, to the point where any foreign adventure smacks of a confidence trick. We won't get fooled again, we think, even though Syria and Iraq have virtually nothing in common and there's no earthly prospect of any western boot trampling on that troubled sand. Catch us making that mistake again. In some ways Thursday's parliamentary decision was the vote of no confidence in Blair we should have seen in 2003. Instead of fighting the next battle, it's human nature to re-fight the last one and try to get it right, and Mr Blair's duplicity may once again prove to be the author of our shame.
The wisest remark I ever heard about the Vietnam war (which we kept out of despite US pressure) was that our mistake was to portray Vietnam as an episode in American history. Whereas in fact America was just an episode in the long and complex tale of Vietnamese history. Thus with Arab tradition and tribalism, the chafing against borders imposed by western imperialists, the dreams and nightmares of Islam, the Sunni/Shia divide, the centuries-long grudges and resentments in which our interference is not seen as an enlightenment into the true way of 21st century life but just another factor, a mere wave on the surface of longer and deeper tides. Any bomb we drop or missile we fire will always have a faction to cheer it on as well as one to suffer, not because they are on our 'side' but because we are briefly on theirs. We sit smugly in our European oasis and moan about issues like wind-farms, fox-hunting, and badgers, so insulated from our recent past that even Auschwitz has become a stag-party destination, forgetting that much of the world is still struggling for resolution, nationhood, freedom from vicious oppression, experiencing the sort of internecine religious bestiality we left behind in medieval times, struggling – especially the youth – for just a drop of what we take for granted. We're irrelevant.
To get off the fence, I think we owed the Assad regime a taste of its own medicine, and have done since it started raining murder on innocent families in Homs 18 months ago. But it won't make much difference. We're spectators on the hillside watching impotently while foreign foot-soldiers fight out their ancient and bloody hand-to-hand battles of the past on the plains below. Let's not expect them to be impressed when we tell them it's not cricket.