Last week when I was watching the news David Cameron said it was a good idea to bomb Syria because our friends in France had asked us to. He was very calm and measured and responded mannerly to all the questions and criticisms. He even told Jeremy Corbyn that “I very much respect his long-held views about these issues” even though he had previously described him as “a threat to national security”.
This reminded me of when I was nine and my family had moved house and I had just started a new school. I was a bit apprehensive and nervous and I knew I needed some friends. So I was very pleased when I fell in with a couple of boys who were very friendly.
Within about a week they said they were going to a pre-arranged fight with three other boys in the class and I should come along so it would be three against three. I wasn’t really very keen on the idea but peer pressure and my new status meant I didn’t think I could refuse. I knew that there wasn’t a good reason for me to get into a fight and I knew it was a bad idea all round but I felt compelled to go.
When I arrived at the appointed spot, at what was supposed to be the right time, I saw to my amazement that the other three boys were stuck up three enormous trees, or they were enormous to me at the time. I was immediately shit scared, not because I thought they could quickly get down and kick the shit out of me but because I had no idea how the f*** they got up there in the first place. And I was pretty sure that if they were capable of getting up there they were probably pretty capable of giving me a right doing should they ever get down.
In the end they stayed up there and nothing much happened. So at least in this respect turning up for this fight has absolutely no parallel with Cameron’s call that we should turn up for a bigger fight in Syria although, just like Cameron, the identity of the opponent doesn’t seem to matter very much. Not for example two years ago when he wanted to bomb the Assad regime and not now when he wants to bomb Isis, who funnily enough are on different sides.
The other reason he gave for bombing Syria is that there are 70,000 moderates in Syria who he can rely upon to sort things out when he’s stopped bombing. This 70,000 however seems to include factions of Al-Qaeda (and the Kurds?); while he also wants to have an alliance with Russia and Turkey, although the former only wants to support Assad and the latter only really seems interested in bombing the Kurds. This however seems to be the developed plan that his Tory skeptics and his Blairite supporters in the Labour Party have been looking for.
At least I would never have fallen for any old crap that my two new friends had other friends who would be turning up to help.
Cameron also said that Isis are a threat in Britain and stopping Isis “means taking action in Syria . . . because it is Raqqa that is their HQ.” It might seem obvious but I somehow don’t think the threat to Britain of terrorist attack will come from jihadists in Raqqa making their way to Britain, that’s not after all how it happened in France. It’s not really a question of getting them before they leave. All those years ago this would have meant me putting a brick through the boys’ windows and I’m glad I wasn’t that stupid.
Cameron told the House of Commons that the “full answer” to the problem of sufficient reliable ground troops “can’t be achieved until there is a new Syrian government that represents all the Syrian people — not just Sunni, Shia and Alawite, but Christian, Druze and others”. How this incredible gift is supposed to materialise is anyone’s guess. By the time I was nine I had long ceased believing in Santa.
He also told the House of Commons that he wants to have the vote next week but he won’t have one at all “if there’s a danger of losing it”. This is because of “the message” a defeat “would send our enemies”, who presumably would decide to attack us anyway even if we didn’t attack them just like France(?) and because they want us to attack them anyway. Presumably that’s the logic, if that’s not to put it too strongly.
On the question of the legality of bombing Cameron appears to be saying that he has been asked to bomb Syria, just like Iraq, so that’s ok then. Apparently once again, like my own adventure, he has had as much regard to the legality of his actions as I had when I was nine. He also appears to be saying that it would be legal because it would be self-defence although it seems an awful long way to go to defend oneself. I’m not sure I could have argued self-defence if I had waited for those boys to climb down from the trees.
Cameron obviously wants it to look like he has learnt the lessons of Iraq, which appears to mean he won’t dismantle the Syrian state when he wins, and presumably he has the agreement of 70,000 moderates for this entirely moderate strategy of leaving the apparatus of the ruthless Assad dictatorship in place so it can oversee the introduction of a democratic regime, just like in Britain.
I don’t actually think I have a parallel piece of idiocy for this in my own youthful experience. I did on occasion come out with stupid answers in class but not one I can recall as divorced from the facts of the question as this.
I’m fully aware that my own juvenile adventure may seem to have absolutely no bearing on what is an infinitely more serious matter. It’s just that if the arguments Cameron has for going to war are as facile and inane as these then the comparison is at least imperfectly valid. A more perfect parallel would have involved me in something much more seriously misdirected and with much graver consequences.
Of course the potential deaths of countless people, for we can be certain the deaths of Syrians won’t be counted, is not a joke, except that saying something is a joke can have a much more mordant meaning.
The case put forward for bombing Syria is miserable and wretched. Only a fool could believe it. It is cynical and malevolent, entirely befitting its proposer and supporters, and the idea that this is some sort of issue of ‘conscience’ is as devoid of conviction as the case for war itself. Ridicule is of course not enough but sometimes it seems apposite when the arguments one faces appear so inappropriate and so grossly unequal to the issues at stake.