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)
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