Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Never again?

Forty-nine. That’s the number of Syrian deaths not for every word, but every letter, in this column. (The preceding sentence represents 3,577 lives)

Twenty years ago, the world watched the Rwandan genocide and said: ‘never again’. (3,381 lives) But ‘never again’ seems to come faster for political leaders than for everyone else, because ‘never again’ turned out to mean ‘a year later, in Srebrenica’. (6,419 lives) This is also the 11th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and not quite the first anniversary of the vote that ‘stopped the rush to war’ in Syria. (6,517 lives)

Like most people of my generation, I was politicised by the war in Iraq. (2,891 lives, sarin gas) Like most people of my generation, I thought that Iraq was a moral and a political disaster. (3,724 lives, napalm bombs) It may be that I was right, but, if I was, then we will have to start inventing new adjectives, because if Iraq’s a disaster, what’s left to describe the Syrian horror? (6,664 lives, all of them children)

You might well, at this point, ask: well, what is the relevance of Iraq to the bloodbath in Aleppo, or the axes in Rwanda? (4,851 lives) To which I say: when the gas was first used, we did not talk about Syria, we talked about Iraq. (3,724 lives) We said: Iraq was a catastrophe, politically, militarily, socially. (2,891 lives) So we said: this time, let’s stay away. (1,568 lives) And yes, of course, Iraq has a host of problems, from sectarian violence to corruption to a ruling party that increasingly sees itself as part of the state. (6,321 lives) So does South Africa, but here’s the thing: they have the vote, they have a chance. (3,332 lives) It is possible to conceive of a happy ending for Iraq, post-intervention. (3,038 lives) It is not possible to imagine a positive resolution for Syria without intervention. (3,479 lives)

Instead, what we will see is a Russian puppet of extraordinary brutality; a breeding ground for jihadists both in Syria and outside of it – it is odd, isn’t it, how the opponents of the Iraq war ignore how many of Iraq’s recent problems have been caused by Syrian conflict and diaspora – and the further sense that the west regards Islam and democracy as incompatible. (14,847 lives)

I cannot pretend to have the answers; I still do not know what we ought to have done in Syria. (2,886 lives) But I know for certain that the decision we made has been the wrong one. (1,568 lives) No one will ever tell me I have blood on my hands for saying that we ought to stay out of Syria; although I did, and I do. (4,753) No one will ever summon Barack Obama and Ed Miliband to a judge-led inquiry on western intervention in Syria. (4,508 lives) But in nine years’ time, we will look back and say: never again. (2,499 lives)

I wonder: do you think we will mean it then? (The letters in this column represent some 100,000 lives. This is the number that the United Nations in July 2013 estimated had died. The organisation is no longer able to monitor hostilities)


Stephen Bush is a contributing editor to Progress, writes a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb


Photo: Freedom House

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Stephen Bush

is a contributing editor to Progress, formerly wrote a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb


  • Amazing how many people in Syria want us to send our young people to die for their freedom in the sure and certain knowledge that it would turn out even worse than Iraq. If this is so clear to me, why is it not clear to you? Do you read the Guardian reports of young Syrians returning to help and having to leave because they realised that there was nothing they could do that was any use. You see us establishing a bridgehead, bombing government offices and military units, and eventually, like in Libya, freeing the country. Well, we are starting to get the blame for Libya and, I am more inclined to believe that Syria would be more like Iraq than Libya.

  • well, a lot of them are in Qatar, Saudi, Foggy Bottom, and especially in Ankara, since the famous Sarin bombing was done by the Turkish military (see Seymour Hersh in London Review of Books) – not to mention the NATO faking of the dates of Russian troops and jets ( a Commonwealth of Independent States military exercise in 2013 with full Ukrainian participation… lies worthy of Colin Powell and the whole lamentable crew of fakers of evidence of “weapons of mass destruction”…). I take it that Bush and Bloodthirsty will now advocate British armed action against Turkey….On question: are you Blairite warmongers useful idiots of the Pentagon/White house lie-factory, or do you know what is being faked up and go along with it to help fondle your consciences?

  • It’s not a war and it’s not our battle, we do not enter or fight the millions which died under Robert Mugabe regime so why Syria, sorry but we have lots of others battles and wars we should have done something about and did not.

    Stay our our young soldiers in the TA’s are not trained enough our armed forces are being cut so sorry nope not ours .

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