...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 4622: Syrians versus Badgers


One day, I would hope, people will stop thinking that the solution to a problem is to throw ordinance at it.

But apparently that’s not today. No, today we are talking about curing cows by shooting badgers and curing a civil war by lobbing bombs into Syria.

Since being dead means they don’t have TB any more this is supposed to be “better for the badgers too”; presumably Lord Blairimort – hmm, “TB” – will pop up shortly to make the same argument about Syrians.

In either case, we’re in danger of making the cure worse than the disease.

Can we please resist this drift into military action in Syria.

It seems that a successful intervention in Libya has cleansed military minds of the cataclysm that we brought about by wading into Iraq.

This accelerating drum beat to war is being driven by some pretty horrific stories in our newspapers and on the television.

Why do our media seem to care more about massacres in Syria when we barely hear a report on the ongoing conflicts in Africa, the more distant parts of Asia and Latin America? Partly, I suspect, it’s immediacy, novelty even; partly it’s because of the effect on our so-called “national interests”, our allies in Turkey and Israel being closely affected by the conflict, and then there are all those nearby oilfields (although of course the war in the African Congo is paid for by the mining rights for those rare metals that we need for our smart-phones and sadPads); partly even it may be that after years of reporting on “Middle Eastern Crises” (from Cyprus to Yom Kippur War, from Lebanon to Intifada; from Iraq to Arab Spring) there’s just a core of embedded, committed journalists there with on-the-ground knowledge and stories to tell.

But are highly emotive stories of the horror of civil war entirely the best way to be deciding on whether we throw our armed forces into yet another conflict?

It would be nice to think that everyone agrees that gassing civilian populations is an act of evil. Although clearly not everyone agrees or it wouldn’t happen.

But do we really protect people from bullies by being the bigger bully?

We certainly don’t seem to be willing to take these people out of harm’s way by offering them safe haven thousands of miles from the conflict in the United Kingdom. No, it appears we’d much rather they stayed there in the firing line while we take some pot-shots at the Syrian army to “give them a taste of their own medicine”. (Not, obviously the poison gas kind of medicine.)

“There are no good outcomes in Syria,” we are warned, “but non-intervention is the worst.”


Because this civil war is the outcome of nothing but interventions, ever since the “great powers” decided to carve up the Ottoman Empire, and since perfidious Albion (that’s us, by the way) promised the same small acreage to about a dozen different mutually-antagonistic factions, we’ve kept on sticking our noses into the Middle East, picking sides for proxies in the Cold War, supporting dictators because they promised to keep the oil flowing, supplying billions of dollars (to Israel, to Egypt, we don’t discriminate) with which their military can buy weapons from us for “self-defence” in order to support jobs at home without thought as to where those weapons might one day be pointed (that means at us, by the way).

For decades, Presidents and Prime Monsters have talked about “draining the swamp” of the Middle East. Instead, we just keep pumping in more mud.

There are hard questions to ask: Can we do anything? Can we actually stop this sort of thing happening? Are we sure we will make things better? Regardless of what good we do, what harm will we also cause? What will be the consequences?

If we say we will intervene, will this provoke the Assad regime to greater atrocities in an attempt to “win” before our forces can reach the battlegrounds? Or will our tacit support of the rebels drive them to recklessly assault government-held positions in the assumption that we will arrive to back them up? How will Vladimir Putin’s Russia – already feeling isolated, ignored, insulted and impotent – react? Does the West’s reputation for selfishly hoarding the World’s resources and randomly blowing up any bits of the planet that get “uppity” about it really need any more sullying?

Civil war is very rarely the best route from dictatorship to democracy; replacing one regime with another does not a liberal democracy create. What you need is time, rule of law, stability, broader education and even a dollop of affluence. But imposing a democracy from outside is even worse. You cannot, after all, impose self-determination.

John Stuart Mill, writing in 1859, had a Few Words to say on Non-Intervention [pdf]. At a time when the British Empire saw itself as a “civilising influence” he may have rather gone along with that attitude towards “barbarians”, but when it came to civil war, his answer was this:
“When the contest is only with native rulers, and with such native strength as those rulers can enlist in their defence, the answer I should give to the question of the legitimacy of intervention is, as a general rule, No.”
And he explains:
“The reason is, that there can seldom be anything approaching to assurance that intervention, even if successful, would be for the good of the people themselves.”

As for the badgers: I am constitutionally against the assassination of fluffy animals!

But even if I wasn’t, would it not be better to await the outcome of the vaccination trials currently being conducted in Wales? As I recall the evidence from the last time a cull was tried was that the cases of bovine TB actually went up, (presumably because badgers are territorial and wiping them out allows for greater movement of badgers and hence greater chance of infection and cross-infection) and even DEFRA’s own scientists only estimate a reduction in new TB cases of 12% to 16%.

Killing things hardly seems to be a solution.

Who’d have thought!


There is an E-petition to stop the badger cull (care of Dr Brian May!).

Having already gained more than double the 100,000 signatures threshold this ought to be debated in Parliament, were they not all off on recess, but please continue to sign to increase the pressure on them to do so.

1 comment:

Jennie Rigg said...

Love you. Thank you for talking about something I can't, and doing so in a way that doesn't make it sound like a dry discussion on the price of biscuits.