There exists a dangerous tendency on the left which believes that government is a place where everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts. This week has been a reminder that government is frequently a place where nothing is beautiful and everything hurts.
The 2012 case for intervention in Syria gets stronger and stronger every day, the awful predictions about what would happen if the west stood by and watched – Assad has massacred civilians and put the rebel forces to flight, the resistance has become balkanised and radicalised, the conflict has spread beyond Syria – have become more and more accurate. But as the case for intervention then becomes more and more powerful, the chance of success now becomes ever more remote.
There is a temptation, in life and not just politics, to draw conclusions that allow you to agree with the people that you like. I want to agree with Tony Blair, Barack Obama, and, on this occasion, David Cameron. I want to support a western intervention in Syria. I want to disagree with the never-send-anyone-anywhere tendency, who have no answer to any of the pressing questions of the world today other than undirected anger. When I hear one of the isolationists talk about the ‘disasters’ in Iraq and Libya, I want to say: yes, there are disasters in Iraq and disasters in Libya. But we can imagine a path to a better future in Iraq and Libya, while the best we can offer in Syria is that Assad might go back to oppressing his people quietly and cleanly, so we don’t have to look at it any more.
The anti-war left is willfully deluding itself about the reality of what we are allowing to happen in Syria. We imagine that our hands are clean because we’re not intervening; but people who die because of what we do not do are just as much our moral responsibility as people who die because of what we choose to do. Our movement bears the responsibility for what happens in Baghdad; it also bears the responsibility for what still goes on in Harare. That same dangerous tendency that believes that government is an easy ride has only one answer to deaths in foreign lands, and that is: not our problem.
But while the anti-war left is wrong on the morality, and, in any case, arrives at that position almost by coincidence, it is, unfortunately, right on the policy. Day-by-day, the case for intervention in 2012 is made ever stronger by the diminishing likelihood of success in 2013. Both Obama and Cameron are adopting the policy they should have begun with a year ago; not because they do not care, but because both of them allowed events to take control of the day-to-day. The hope is, as with Kosovo in 1999, a show of allied force will lead to a Russian U-turn, and Assad back around the negotiating table. But in 1999, Russia was led by a recessional ex-Soviet and no one knew for sure whether or not Blair and Bill Clinton were bluffing. Vladimir Putin is not Boris Yeltsin; and as both UK and US leaders have spent most of the crisis trying to avoid it, why would the Kremlin be convinced by this latest threat?
Labour’s position now shouldn’t be to arm the rebels. Douglas Alexander is right: Syria is already awash with weapons, the opposition is still riven, the country’s major cities have been taken over by Assad loyalists and the conflict is spreading throughout the region. The answer isn’t to do what we ought to have done in a year ago; the answer is to look at why we allowed things to reach this. The answer isn’t ‘What should we do now?’ but ‘How did we reach a point where there was nothing left to do?’ That, not the belated attempt to revive yesterday’s solution, must be Labour’s line on Syria.
Photo: Freedom House
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