Sunday, September 01, 2013

Gentlemen, You Can't Fight In Here!

Well, well - we do live in interesting times. Some thoughts on the ongoing fallout of the Syria debacle in the UK, in no particular order:

- It's difficult to understate how badly the government had sex with the hound in making its case for bombing.

To pick a couple of previous PR campaigns, we've had a case full of scaremongering, slightly-true bollocks and magical fulminations on the wonders of democracy (Iraq) and a case that amounted to a series of bald lies about our objectives (Libya).  Both were packed with nonsense, but it did feel like they were at least making a bit of an effort.

For Syria, the government tried the novel tactic of not making a case for war at all. Perhaps it was complacency that reduced the entire campaign to some horrible TV footage and a vague plan to like, bung some missiles at Syria so that the regime would, like, totally know we meant business and shit.

So you can't really blame folk for not buying it. This kind of behaviour looks pretty deranged when it's a bunch of Palestinian yahoos spunking rockets at their neighbours for no particular reason, and it doesn't sound more reasonable just because the guy proposing it went to public school.

- If your plan is so flimsy that it can't even stand up to one guy saying, "Can you explain this in a bit more detail", then it was probably a shit plan in the first place.  This part of war-planning is usually the most insulting phase, as everyone pretends there's an actual debate to be had, beyond how badly we intend to fuck up some foreigners.

After all, it's not like Ed Miliband asked for a detailed twelve-step programme for the elimination of death itself. Labour's quibble basically offered 100% backing for yet another whizzbang firework show, provided Cameron handed over something - anything, any excuse, however feeble - by way of justification.

Frankly, I thought Cameron could've published a war prospectus that consisted of a map of Syria with BOMB HERE written on it and a clip of Tulisa honking on another cock, and he would've been buried under a towering pile of backbenchers' frilly knickers, like Tom Jones. A mere fig leaf to drape over Britain's vast, throbbing war-boner would've been sufficient.

Instead, we were treated to one of the least edifying hissyfits in Parliamentary history, as Number Ten chewed desks, rent garments, spoke in tongues, called down the judgement of heaven etc. and so on. Michael Gove and William Hague looked like they were engaged in a contest to see who could best convey the abstract concept of bollock-torture, through the medium of facial expressions.

Well, it'll probably come to war anyway, but let's just notice for now that all it took to derail these hijinks was for one major politician to say "Hold on, let's have a bit of a think about this first".  Perhaps there, we see where we've been going wrong all these years.

- The most psychotically aggressive human beings in this country aren't soldiers or football hooligans, but Times journalists. For the past fortnight, their opinion columns and editorials all read like they were written by a pissed-up Scrappy Doo.

- And it really is very lucky for our mental foreign policy wonks that all these disasters keep happening in places that they've always wanted to bomb to smithereens in the first place.

- I suspect that most of our war-loving pundits have been in such a state of boiling, omni-directional seethe since that vote, not just because they love those Syrians that we weren't planning to kill so very fucking much, but because

a) Britain chose not to join in with the Americans and the sky has not yet fallen, which teaches the public all kinds of highly inconvenient lessons, and

b) These aren't people who are used to being denied whatever they want. War pundits have been spoilt rotten these last fifteen years, so it's no surprise that they're stamping their little feet and bawling when Mummy tells them that we have to play nice and keep the toys in the box for once.

- Elsewhere, Paddy Ashdown has been telling everyone who will listen that not bombing fuck out of countries whenever we feel like it is some terrifying form of hateful extremism.

Call me nuts, but his wailing about "isolationism" strikes me as hilariously premature. Parliament narrowly declining one war in every ten or so doesn't sound much like a Fortress Britain mentality to me, yo.

Still, let's note that while Ashdown's Fuck 'Em And Feed 'Em Frag Grenades attitude to military adventurism is wildly unpopular with the actual electorate, it places him squarely in the centre of the most mundane mainstream of UK politics.

- Also, somebody needs to send some British journalists a link to the Wiki page for "War", because almost none of them appear to be aware that bombing fuck out of another country is a little bit war-ish.

I mean, sure, these days we only make war on countries that can't meaningfully fight back so the definition is stretched, but the formula is still Attacking a country = War, no matter how many nice press releases you issue while you're doing it.

- And that line we kept hearing, about how "Syria is not like Iraq". I'm assuming that it means "Not like Iraq in 2003", because it sure as hell looks a bit like Iraq in 2007 to my untrained eye.

- It's fairly incredible to me that the press seem to be able to find endless numbers of Syrians who want us to bomb their countrymen on their behalf, but almost none who actually want to be bombed themselves.

You'd think there would be quite a lot of Syrians who'd state publicly that they'd rather not be fragged into space dust by the force of our humanitarianism, but I guess they must be too busy to give interviews.

- Who doesn't love being told that "We can't let Russia or China dictate our foreign policy" by wonks and hacks who are entirely in favour of outsourcing our foreign policy to Pennsylvania Avenue? It's just precious.

- If everyone on Twitter giving it hee-haw about how anti-war types should protest the Russian embassy had actually protested outside the Russian embassy themselves, there would've been a massive protest outside the Russian embassy.

It would've achieved squarely nothing, but it would at least have backed up their tiresome patter with a bit of action.

And finally, whenever the Americans do start bombing Damascus, my money is on "Operation Lightning Justice". You heard it here first, folks - enjoy the display.


Asteri said...

I would agree with Owen Jones, in that its really all about the jingoism of the interventionists - as it always has been.

I remember a decade ago when, for some reason, they thought invading Iraq would be breeze, when Syria was being talked about as the next target. The potential invasion of Syria has been an old ambition for the simple reason that its what the Israelis and Saudis have been demanding; just like their insistence that the west take out Iran for them as well.

What is particularly disturbing, is how far the Sunni extremist attitude that Shias are heretics who ought to be destroyed - and we should participate in that - has been adopted by the western, non-Muslim interventionists.

ejh said...

I remember a decade ago when, for some reason, they thought invading Iraq would be breeze, when Syria was being talked about as the next target.

That said, I think this was mainly a goal of people who thought they were getting the fantasy Iraq invasion that they wanted, as opposed to the people who were actually doing the invasion, if you see what I mean. The people cheering on Our Heroic Liberating Planes And Bombs, as opposed to the people actually directing aforesaid planes and bombs.

I think if our rulers actually wanted to attack Syria (again, as opposed to another group, the rulers of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who do want our rulers to attack Syria) then

(a) it would have happened some time ago
(b) they wouldn't have lost the vote on Thursday.

It's because they could neither see a plan nor an advantage in doing so that Parliament ended up pulling Michael Gove's waaah string.

Still, I'm glad they did. If we're lucky (and I don't suppose we are) it deals a permanent blow to the routine of calling for war-or-you-support-the-dictators at every juncture which has disfigured our politics over the past decade or so. Parliament probably voted the way it did because the public have grown weary of it, and apart from anything else, I do not see the pragmatic point of calling for wars that neither the political class nor the public have any stomach for.

organic cheeseboard said...

I'm less optimistic than EJH about the "permanent blow to the routine of calling for war-or-you-support-the-dictators" - from what I can tell, it's going to take quite a lot for Cameron and his mates to avoid using this as their main line of attack on Miliband over the next few months, no matter what public opinion on the prospective attacks was. Clearly gove still thinks that not instinctively opposing ALL military action does literally make you a Nazi too. Not sure that's going to work so well in the media - all these 'fucking cunts' and 'pro-Russias' haven't quite had the desired effect.

Can I add another 'conclusion' on this? Surely this finally puts to bed the belief, almost universal among journalists, that Michael Gove is 'the most courteous man in Westminster in the flesh'? I've never understood that - everything about him screams 'bully's weedy accomplice' - but it's surely bitten the dust now.

I've left a comment on BenSix's blog too - this might spell the end of Cameron et al relying on Blair and Campbell's books as their strategy manuals. I doubt it, but still.

John Harris is very good on it all I think.

and on 'Syria is not Iraq' - this is just cover for avoiding having to deal with an similarities, no? And it's funny how the only 'correct' historical analogies Aaronovitch, for instance, has managed to come up with are ones where intervention has gone well! funny that.

I'd advise anyone who wants a laugh at Decent journalism to look at this latest from James Bloodworth. Possibly the worst atricle I've ever read.

flyingrodent said...

I think it's worth noting that the only thing keeping us out of Syria has been the Iraq disaster. Plainly, the fact that any bombing campaigns we wage will almost certainly be counterproductive was enough to rein in the government's impulses temporarily, but not indefinitely.

I mean, the enthusiasm of certain sections of our government should be obvious to all. It's certainly obvious to the Syrian rebels, who have spent two years acting exactly like an embattled resistance that expects western whizzbang to rain down upon their enemies at any second. Read through our official statements on the topic and it's not hard to see where they got that idea.

If you see our governments as a set of conflicting impulses, urges, habits, pressures and impulses, then it should be clear that given the right stimuli, they would revert to the mean and try to get the bombs out eventually. After the last decade and a half, it should be clear that Bombs Away is the default setting, and that it can only be halted by some fairly major resistance from within the system.

Anyway, let me suggest that it wasn't the use of chemical weapons that compelled Cameron to threaten war, nor Hollande. It was the realisation that the Americans had changed their minds.

The fact that there was no plan whatsoever beyond "Fire off some missiles with our fingers crossed a la Hamas" plainly wouldn't have deterred the previous Labour government, and it clearly didn't restrain the current one either. Because War All The Time is our neutral gear; we never use reverse, and once in a blue moon, somebody steps on a shonky, unreliable set of brakes.

Seriously, give these crazy motherfuckers a couple of weeks, and we'll wonder what all this fuss is about. I'll probably break out the tired old story about the scorpion and the frog at that point.

organic cheeseboard said...

Gove is very belatedly and rather desperately using the 'won't somebody think of the children' defence now as if he's above childish namecalling and shouting in the Commons. Brilliant stuff.

Hague is also tweeting that we need to 'end the conflict' - um how exactly?

flyingrodent said...

Like I say, it'll take more than a parliamentary slap to dissuade these jokers. There will be moves afoot to turn these lemons into lemonade, I imagine.

In punditland, the hacks barely seem to have noticed that they're in a vanishingly small minority on this issue. The Times editorial today loudly pledged "Solidarity with Syrians" or, at least, with the owns that they aren't actively urging the British government to kill.

Don't be surprised if the situation in Syria in two weeks' time turns out to be so unrecognisably different to the present that we have to have another vote, one that looks suspiciously like the one last week in drag.

flyingrodent said...

And, Jesus OC, you're right about this Gove stuff....

As much as I'd like to believe that the plight of Syrian kids keeps him awake at night, the counter example of all those dead Egyptians does suggest that we're dealing with something a tad less edifying than mere humanitarianism.

As does the fact that even our own governments are basically admitting that our bombing proposal is the military equivalent of a hit-and-hope, for that matter.

What a tool.

organic cheeseboard said...

He's also using sleight of hand then - saying 'at the same time as we were voting, we were hearing on the news about napalm attacks on a school'. So he was watching the news instead of doing his parliamentary duty? Or is he using those reports, which he heard about later, to justify his petulance and childishness? I wonder.

And as you say there are massive doublt standards going on here. This is the Amis defence - say seomthing totally unjustifiable then try to explain it away as 'anger' - sadly Gove is just using the standard Decent Debating Technique of immediate recourse to accusations not just of appeasement but also actual Nazism.

Also worth remembering how Decents responded when Israel was dropping white phosphorous on schools a while back, ie doing exactly what Assad seems to have done.

Gove was angling for intervention and calling anyone who opposed it a Nazi coward, right?

funbny, too, that in that BBC report Gove's wife (who seems an even less appealing character than him) is claiming that the vote was purely symbolic, designed just to 'condemn' Assad - thus parliament failed the will-you-condemn-a-thon!