Saturday, November 28, 2015

The 9:15 To Raqqa

Our impending Syria war is all over the papers again today, and there's an interesting trend developing.

Type "Syria war" into Google News and you'll quickly get the impression that there's a lively debate over the usefulness of wars in the Middle East.  To read some sources, this debate only even exists at all because of the wildly unpopular and berserk radicalism of the leader of the opposition, but the overwhelming majority of writers and politicians seem to agree: this war will almost certainly end in at least a partial success.

I have no idea quite why this should be the case, since our experience in the last fifteen years has demonstrated quite neatly that our humanitarian wars almost never work, and are in fact greatly more likely to leave the people that we're trying to assist hugely worse off, or dead.

So you'd think that this would be the end of the debate about the usefulness of wars, or at least of humanitarian wars in the Middle East.  It's not like we've only seen this play out once, or anything - we're long past the point where it was controversial, and we can now observe trends and draw hard conclusions.

We can happily concede that of course, it's possible that any particular new war will work - in much the same way that it's possible that I might score a World Cup goal for Scotland - but we can say with a very high degree of confidence that it probably won't work*.  I foolishly expect this to be universally accepted fact, myself. 

I'd also suggest that this should affect our thinking about any new proposal for war.  After all, if trains operated at the same failure rate as our wars, nobody would ever set foot on one.  If politicians and pundits near-unanimously responded to train crashes by announcing faster and more rickety trains, then we'd all assume that those people were dangerously unhinged and unreliable, and we'd never listen to their advice about anything.

The basic conclusion that we can draw is this, though: Our new war will probably be a failure too, and possibly a terrible one.

Now, with this in mind, try that Google search again and see if anything it returns reflects this reality.

There ain't much, is there?

What there is, is plenty of hysterical denunciation for people who point out our dreadful failure rate.  I've picked  McTernan's gloriously deranged Telegraph article as an example, because it's the wackiest, but with most of today's coverage, it's mainly a difference of tone rather than content.

Now, why do we think it is, that the most glaringly obvious fact about our recent military adventures is almost entirely invisible in our discussion of our involvement in this war?  And, can we draw any conclusions about the people who seem to have overlooked it?

*This one is probably the best, although I've never heard of the author, who openly admits that the war probably won't work and backs it anyway.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A New Threat Such As We Have Never Seen

It's a cast-iron rule of warmaking that it necessitates the deployment of vast quantities of bullshit.  Whether we're bombing the Nazis or just flinging missiles about in a vague attempt to kill Al Qaeda's latest Number Three, you can be sure that the rhetoric will be roaring and righteous, and that the condemnations will be crazed and constant.

This being the case, there's little chance of understanding what's going on by measuring the quantity of war bullshit deployed, since war bullshit is infinite and is limited only by the space that's available to squeeze it into.

The thing that we can confidently measure is the quality of the bullshit.  Is it convincing bullshit, or half-true bullshit, or just downright offensively stupid bullshit?

I'd argue that there's a direct link between the level of truly idiotic bullshit, and the necessity and usefulness of the actual war.  That is, the more obviously insulting the bullshit on display is to your intelligence, the less likely it is that there's any need for the UK to get involved in the war at all.

With that in mind, I offer a list of the most common forms of war bullshit.  Tick them off as they appear in the run-up to our latest grand campaign for freedom, then count how many you've spotted and check that figure against the analysis at the foot of this post.

One point each for the following bullshitty arguments:

- There is no time to come up with a war strategy, we must act immediately, before anyone has had a chance to over-think it.

- We must bomb (x) because if we don't, the Americans will be sad and might cry;

- Actions of terrorists from one country mean that it is vital that we drop bombs on different country; 

- Now that we have deliberately put you in a position where you have to either back us, or hand the enemy a propaganda victory, you have no choice but to back us;

- Britain must get involved in this war.  There's no way that the Americans, the French, the Russians, the Australians, the Canadians and others can possibly handle this on their own;

- We must show that we are a big, important country, mainly by blowing shit up with missiles;

- The country that we're going to bomb is in such a terrible predicament that it can't possibly get any worse, despite very convincing and recent evidence to the contrary;

- We are not a warlike people, but we are morally compelled to get involved in an astounding number of, like, wars.

-  A new threat such as we have never seen;

- War can be won with airstrikes, willpower and crossed fingers;

- Fears that UK will lose face if it doesn't start bombing;

- We are morally obligated to help these suffering civilians by dropping bombs on them;

Two points each for the following bullshitty events:

- Government openly hostile to expert opinion that conflicts with its intentions;

- Importance of international law entirely contingent on whether it helps or hinders ability to make war;

- Prime Minister is slick PR man with invincible confidence in his own wisdom, who effortlessly dicks off questions;

- Pundits spitting with fury at anyone who suggests that war might be bad idea;

- Considerations about welfare of civilians in war-zone clearly tacked on as an afterthought;

- War can definitely be won without anyone having to pay more taxes;

- Pundits congratulating selves and each other for courageously agreeing with government, again;

- Public sharply divided over war;

- Neighbouring countries interfering in war-zone and no plan in place to prevent them from doing so;

- Any suggestion that attacking cities with high explosives makes the people who live there hate us more, treated as if it were tantamount to saying "We all deserve to be killed, especially me";

- Loud declarations that we have learned important lessons from previous catastrophic wars, while visibly committing the same or similar errors;

- Major powers making grand proclamations about justice and humanitarianism, while obviously harbouring less-than-secret goals;

- Locals in war-zone hate us, but are willing to pretend that they don't for as long as we're killing their enemies;

- Anti-war politicians being repeatedly asked why they're such lying Jihadist bastards, while success of war is simply taken for granted;

- Entire strategy can fairly be summarised as "Keep killing motherfuckers until either they sit down and behave themselves, or everybody is dead"?


0-6:  Oh dear, it looks like this is it - World War II all over again.  The entire nation is dangerously imperilled and there's no choice but to fight a total war against evil until victory.  See you on the parade ground, everyone.

6-12:  Mmm, starting to look a bit Falklands War-y here.  British lives and British interests threatened, actual fascist junta to fight.  Let's get down the docks and wave Our Boys off with some flags.

12-20:  All getting a bit Afghanistan now, isn't it?  We're killing quite a lot of people for reasons that aren't entirely clear; nobody really knows what we're meant to be doing and it's not obvious that victory is even possible.  Time to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

20-30:  No doubt about it, this is another Libya War.  Soaring rhetoric about freedom and democracy, while actually just spunking missiles about the place with no clear idea what we're achieving, before noisily congratulating ourselves and fucking off to let the locals dodge bullets and barter for their lives with the heavily-armed militias we empowered for the next few decades.

30-42:  The full Iraq War lunacy.  The Americans - cracked, insane and cranked up with invincible levels of patriotic nonsense - are about to half-destroy an entire country, and there's nothing to be gained by trying to dissuade them from it.  If we can't beat 'em, join 'em - time to start waving flags and mouthing idiotic pablums about freedom, while we preside over one of the all-time catastrophic megadeath military fuck-ups.