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April 13, 2018



Surely the first question before engaging in military action is: What is our objective? The second question is: Will military action attain our objective? I have seen no answers to these questions, therefore I think Military action should not be used.


«I suspect that Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq was the product of his overall ideology – an overconfidence about what top-down leaders could know.»

I think ther evidence is ample that his decision was to do “whatever” Bush wanted, regardless of knowledge or even despite knowledge. I can agree with that: if a country has chosen to be a protectorate, quibbling "why" is not exactly pertinent. You loyally go where your protector goes, it is a deal.

«What is our objective? The second question is: Will military action attain our objective?»

If "our objective" is to maintain the protection of whichever USA elite faction "we" are protected by, military actions along them will achieve that objective, “whatever” as T Blair said.


«There’s a danger that the question of whether we should intervene in Syria is becoming a left-right issue.»

It is not a “danger” :-). But it seems to be a "neocon"/"not neocon" issue, rather than "left-right", where being a neocon or not cuts across the parties. Look at the names of the 50 signatories of this Early Day Motion from a month ago:

That this House unequivocally accepts the Russian state's culpability for the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury using the illegal novichok nerve agent”

That is simply a declaration of "neocon" allegiance, not of knowledge, and the party composition of the signatories shows it super-clearly: 1 DUP, 1 Conservative, 3 SNP, 9 LibDems, 36 New Labour. That's a roll-call of the new "centrist" ("neocon" for sure, and mostly neolib too) party. Interesting that only one Conservative MP signed it, even if it was in total support of the Conservative position, and 9 out of 12 LibDems signed it, but Vince Cable did not, even if he says that he totally supports the Conservative position.

«Faced with uncertainty, we must err on the side of doing nothing: if in doubt, do nowt.»

That argument has been made by a "The Guardian" columnist arguing that the inaction of "defeatist pacifists" like Likud and B Netanyahu as he did not oppose syrian and russian "aggression" against Israel's borders has put in danger the lives of israeli citizens:

“The reality is that Israel - and Netanyahu in particular - has badly misread the trajectory of Russia's re-engagement in the Middle East, which has created in the very kindest interpretation the context for Iran's projection of its influence ever further west and ever closer to Israel's borders.”


«That argument has been made by»

Ah damn, it should have been "has been made in the reverse": that "do nowt" is dangerous. Consider these two other quotes:

«Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said: “Striking Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons would degrade their ability to commit further war crimes...”»

«It’s time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad’s ability to murder Syria’s citizens at will. ... Last year, Donald Trump was so upset by photos of gassed children, he ordered a limited missile strike. Assad shrugged it off. Trump should know better now. One feel-good bomb-fest does not a strategy make.»

Obviously the argument is that *many* "feel-good bomb-fest"s are needed for a proper strategy.
After all as Tony Blair said WMDs can reach the UK in only 45 minutes from the middle east. :-)

For the "neocon" side "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, (Syria, Iran, Tartus, Crimea, ...)" is the only sensible application of the precautionary principle: "just in case", "better safe than sorry", ...

Ignatius Cheese

"I suspect that Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq was the product of his overall ideology – an overconfidence about what top-down leaders could know."

True, but another part of that ideology was an apparent allegiance to evidence-based policy making (not much wrong with that), so given how badly these ventures keep going you'd be forgiven for thinking that he and his ilk might re-calibrate their views on these issues at some point, but so far nothing.

Luis Enrique

this is all very true, and the burden of evidence should certainly be on those proposing violent intervention especially in view of their track record. But to be devil's advocate, suppose we took (one of the few) examples of where intervention was deemed a success (Kosovo, Sierra Leone), I don't suppose anybody was much more certain about how that would turn out. It's not clear to me whether you are arguing for inaction always (the cost is sometimes failing to do good, the benefit more often avoiding to do harm) or if you would be somehow able to articulate how and when we'd know the degree of uncertainty has reduced enough to overcome the bias towards inaction?


The West decided in 2013 to continue to support the Opposition in Syria and to discard the option of seeking ways to de-escalate the conflict. The original justification was that this would shorten the war because it would hasten Assad's overthrow. There never was much evidence for this assertion and it implicitly assumes that creating a new regime would be quite simple - which is never the case and in this case certainly isn't.

The decision to continue to support the Opposition has never been fully acknowledged in public and a lot of the public discourse is based on the fallacy that the West hasn't been involved in Syria.

We know from Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya that regime change is difficult and its failure has lots of very unpleasant consequences. It is therefore difficult to understand why it was thought that it would be possible to change the regime in Syria, instead of seeking de-escalation. I suspect that Obama had already annoyed the Saudis by negotiating with Iran and couldn't afford to annoy them further by ending support to the Syrian Opposition, even when it became clear that it was divided an infiltrated by jihadis and would be difficult to transform into a new regime.

Meanwhile I continue to be amazed by the claims that "doing something" in August 2013 would have avoided the current chaos in Syria, even though that "something" has never been defined nor have its consequences been analysed. "Lets carry out some ill-defined military intervention in a nation full of jihadis and with stocks fo chemical weapons" - really?


«(one of the few) examples of where intervention was deemed a success (Kosovo, Sierra Leone)»

The "Kosovo" story was where it all started: Serbia was allied with the tzarist empire (and that started WW1), Yugoslavia was "non-aligned" but still linked to the USSR.

The bombing, invasion, and dismemberment of Yugoslavia was an object lesson to the world: that after the collapse of the USSR no country was exempt from "restructuring", even an european one. From that came Iraq 2, Libya, Ukraine, etc.
This has made a lot of countries understand that they had better be aligned, or else (and in the case of Libya the could become aligned and still "or else" happened).

Syria was meant to be a demonstration that even the support of the new rebuilt Russia was worthless. Apparently Russia decided to double down, and according to some speculation it will be Iran that will be bombed instead, as it is also involved in Syria but is not protected by Russia.
And bombing Iran would really please the more likudnik wing of the neocons.

Basically there seem to be two neocon factions: "smash Iran first" and "smash Russia first". Trump works with the former faction, the "deep state" with the latter.
The columnist I quoted at "The Guardian" attacking B Netanyahu seems to be more aligned with the "smash Russia first" faction, while B Netanyahu obviously thinks that he can come to arrangements with Russia but Iran is the real enemy.

There is not a lot that "knowledge" about specific episodes can help with here; these are geopolitic bets, about potential future strategic alignments.


The Sierra Leone intervention was something like a humanitarian military intervention, as this concept was originally conceived in the early 1990s. It stopped the resurgence of the internal conflict, thus preventing the collapse of the State and avoiding a chaos in which civilians would have been killed, displaced and lost their livelihoods. The intervention was linked to a political process to re-integrate the various parties to the conflict.

Western intervention in Syria has been the opposite. Even though it was initially claimed that supporting the Opposition would quickly end the conflict by causing the collapse of the Assad government (which supposedly was just about to fall more than five years ago), it has in fact fuelled the conflict. It is unclear what Western governments think is the end-game in Syria: they allow the Opposition to walk out of peace talks on the first day because it wants Assad to resign before talks start: but this isn't going to happen because other parties fear that this will lead to regime collapse. It is unclear how the Opposition, which is fragmented and infiltrated by jihadis, can create a new regime and it is unclear whether Western governments are going to stick around and help to build a new regime.

Any use of the word "humanitarian" in association with Western intervention in Syria further devalues the word "humanitarian".


Actually The Debate/conflict, whether we get to it or not (if we don't blow the planet that is) will be seen to have been about the UN/international law. (Who will be the judge, never mind the policeman). Syria being the context, not the arena. As others have pointed out, we're not dealing in humanitarian concerns here; or an intervention in any meaningful sense – more a public hit and run.
The current structure of the UN, which gives Russia, among others, a veto, is a deliberate reflection of an actual balance of power. We're in a mess, but is it not obvious that something, if not somebody, is in the process of undermining that balance. Who 'owns' the UN? Must it be owned or can diplomacy triumph?


What intelligence, knowledge and informed policy?

It is more like the going over the top in WW1 Blackadder - "we need a meaningless gesture" Melchett: "If nothing else works a total pig headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through".

Or when USA was trying to patch up the Iraq it had hastily destroyed. "A former US ambassador claims that when she was sent to Iraq to coordinate efforts to reconstruct the country she was provided with no information on how to undertake the task. Barbara Bodine was one of 170 US officials sent to Iraq after the invasion in 2003. She says that the officials consulted a 1994 Lonely Planet tourist guide on Iraq in order to gain "essential information on the economy, the Government and important buildings and embassies." This reveals the lack of commitment and planning by the US to rebuild the country.

The real issue that would help problems escalating into civil wars is that the UK has to remove the veto and vote by majority. The UN peacekeepers can then come in to help, de-escalate and negotiate at the early stages. A few minutes allied bombing is not going to change the results of 7 years bombing.


«The UN peacekeepers can then come in to help»

There are no UN peacekeepers. There are national troops in UN colors, a very different thing.

IIRC Hammarskjold "lost his life" also because he wanted a permanent force of UN soldiers paid for and under UN command, instead of countries volunteering some troops.



In my view, the level of ignorance is worse than that. There is a lot of noise about "why didn't somebody do something in August 2013?" without specifying what that something would be or making any attempt at analysing what the consequences would be or what the alternatives were. It is deliberate ignorance, or deliberately insulting the intelligence of the electorate by drawing conclusions from fact-free assertions.

In mid-2013, the Syrian Opposition still included ISIS as well as groups claiming allegiance to Al-Qaida (who are still there) and Syria still had official stocks of chemical weapons. It was proposed to carry out some unspecified military action in support of that Opposition. Parliament balked at this, and Cameron refused to consider the Opposition motion (which proposed military action after a number of steps were taken) and refused to come back with another motion later. Yet now a lot of hacks and politicians are saying that "something" should have been done in August 2013, even though we still have no idea what was proposed and whether the fairly obvious risks had been considered. This isn't being ignorant: it is deliberately failing to engage with reality.

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