This is not going to be a light and fluffy post, as it’s on a really complex issue. Put simply, WTF is going on? Why have the UK government made such a terrible case for military action n Syria?
As someone who is both paid to analyse geopolitical issues and has studied them at post grad level I should have an idea, but genuinely, I don’t really get it.
Why have the UK government made such a hash of communicating their strategy and getting widespread backing – or even acceptance for it? My main areas of confusion are as follows:
There are dozens of really nasty dictators around, from our old friend Bob Mugabe to Lukaschenko in Belarus. The North Korean President won gold medal for bat sh@t crazy behaviour by a dictator today, where it was reported that he had his mistress and her band executed by a public bout of machine gunning, followed by a trip to the gulag for the survivors.
So there are lots of nasty places out there that are every bit as bad, or even worse than Syria. So why Syria?
We should remember this is a civil war, which is in part driven by sectarian conflict, be it sunni, shia, alawite or coptic. This is not Halbja where Saddam practiced disgusting ethnic cleansing. This is not Srebenica where powerless Bosnians were slaughtered. It sure has hell isn’t Rwanda, where thousands of people were murdered by handheld weapons because they were from the wrong ethnic group.
This is an ongoing paramilitary uprising against the previously recognised legal sovereign power, by a number of very loosely connected parties, each with their own issues. There is medium intensity conflict, small arms to artillery, with thousands of combatants on both sides. in short, it’s a war. Does this mean the UN / NATO should have got more involved in Ulster, Chechnya, Xinxang, Tibet etc?
Finally Another thing worth considering is, as Jeremy Bowen, BBC Mid East Editor recently tweeted, do the 100,000 + killed by bullets and bombs and 1m displaced children not count? Do we only invade on humanitarian grounds if WMD are used?
So I ask again, why here and why now?
My next set of questions are more tactical and assume something will happen, but still go to the heart of any rationale
Standard Clausewitzian theory is that war must have a political objective that can be reached through military strategy. However in this case I don’t see a political objective. I don’t understand why it is in the UK’s national interest to TLAM the hell out of the world’s longest inhabited city.
Then there’s the issue of the laws of war. If UK Forces attack sovereign Syrian forces, and in the crossfire kill civilians and damage property, does this mean that it would be acceptable for Syrian forces to attack London? Given Hezbollah’s global network of cells, is it in the UK’s national interest to attack a sovereign state that has allies that could cause something horrific to happen at home?
Finally, given the tactical dynamics, how is this anything other than taking sides in a war? There’s no need for a no fly zone. This is about combat missions to destroy military targets. NATO operations would effectively be battlefield interdiction, taking out Syrian military assets that could be used to prosecute the war. This is taking a side.
If any attack is to be more an exercise in propaganda or face saving, if NATO want to be military effective, we have to consider the tactical military needs of the groups who NATO would be supporting. What specific asset destruction would help them gain more territory? As was the case with the Mujahideen in the 1980s, I’m not convinced we know enough about our allies.
The last area for consideration are four questions that don’t actually matter:
1 Were WMD used?
2 were they used by Syrian armed forces or another actor?
3 If Syrian, was it an official order or an officer exceeding his authority?
4 Will the UN Security Council authorise force?
The reason that these questions don’t matter is because London, Washington and Paris have for some reason decided that they want to get involved, but they’re trying to use these 4 points as the justification for hostilities, as opposed to actually caring about finding out the real answers. They know what answers they want, because they will let them kick off.
The fact that there’s so much up in the air and the UN’s inherent structural deficiencies simply weaken the argument. Cameron and Hague have stated they’d attack without cast iron proof and / or a UN mandate anyway.
In conclusion, the confused picture described above encapsulates my frustration with the UK government’s appalling communications on this issue. Put simply they have not made an adequate case for war and they have singularly failed to create messages that resonate in the political community, the media or population at large.
So I’ll ask the same question, because I’m clearly missing something.
WTF is going on, why here, why now?