This is going to be a rant, I am afraid. Readers who dislike rants should stop right now. And it is going to be about people who are demanding that we should immediately and even sooner than that intervene in Syria. Readers who find the subject unpalatable should stop right now or read this letter that cogently explains the Middle East.
So, Syria, where the most appalling things have been happening as they tend to in a confusing civil war and where President Assad, who was confidently predicted to be on his way out a couple of years ago, is still in place, more or less, still as nasty as ever faced by opponents who are just as nasty. I am not going to discuss the recent gas attack, whether it happened (probably though not certainly) and who might have been responsible (almost anyone). I am, however, going to have a go at the people who are confidently demanding that we should intervene.
Yesterday I noted two tweets that annoyed me more than anything else. One said that if we had not intervened in Libya we would have had pictures from Benghazi like the ones we had from Damascus. Possibly, then again, maybe not. For sure, the pictures we had from Benghazi last autumn and since have not exactly filled one with joy at the thought that we helped to create the situation.
Another tweet was retweeted by someone who is a journalist on the Times and ought to know better. (Whom am I kidding?) It said something to the effect that if Obama did not want to be known as the Chamberlain of the 21st century, he should intervene in Syria within hours, thus showing breathtaking ignorance of history, geography and politics.
I am a newcomer to Twitter and use it little, mostly to promote postings on this and other blogs as well as some articles I liked. Occasionally I express some opinion. On the whole I have no strong feelings about the medium but I do see one enormous disadvantage (or advantage, depending on whose side you are on): people can express firm opinions on any subject whatsoever and cannot be questioned about those opinions. Or, at least, they can ignore questions and challenges, leaving those opinions out there in the public domain, in 140 characters.
Of course, I have noted that there have been longer articles and postings on the subject, with many demands that we, the West, Britain, the US, NATO and sundry others should intervene in Syria. There seems to be a complete amnesia about the fact that we have intervened in several countries in that region recently with lamentable results.
However, ladies and gentlemen who demand that we intervene in Syria, could you answer at least some of the following questions?
When you say you want us to intervene what kind of intervention do you have in mind and who, do you think, should carry it out? What precisely is a limited military intervention, as suggested by Senator McCain?
What sort of timetable do you have in mind? Weeks? Months? Years? A long occupation with no foreseeable end and if so, who would be doing it?
What would be the agreed aim of the intervention? Simply no more pictures of dead bodies? How can we ensure that? Regime change? I have no problems with that in principle (think Germany, Japan and Italy in 1945) but what sort of regime should we install and how long will it survive?
Do we have any identifiable allies?
And last but very much not least: what is the exit strategy?
It is possible that some of those who are advocating intervention can answer some if not all of those questions. May I suggest, ever so humbly, that those who cannot answer any apart from pointing vaguely to some nebulous "democrats" that we have to find and help, try to remember what Prime Minister Attlee said to Professor Harold Laski: "a period of silence on your part would be welcome". The last thing we or the United States or NATO needs is another open-ended, ill-defined military engagement in a country whose politics is barely understood in the West.
Not that we are likely to get that period of silence.