Today’s Telegraph contains a thousand words from Boris Johnson about why Britain should ally with Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin over Syria. Wade through his gollygosh prose if you care to – the headline more or less sums the article up. But note the following:
- Syria is a “bestial conflict” that has “already claimed a quarter of a million lives”. But the problem isn’t the man directly responsible for the overwhelming majority of those deaths. Indeed, the fact that these deaths have mostly been down to Assad’s bombing campaign doesn’t even warrant a mention. No, the enemy is ISIS: “Everything else is secondary.” ISIS are an “evil death cult”, which makes them evil-er than the forces actually doing most of the death-ing in Syria.
- Even if we accept the premise that ISIS are the worst thing ever, so awful that we have to side with the guy doing most of the actual killing in Syria, Boris faces another conundrum: Assad and Putin aren’t really fighting ISIS – they’re fighting Syrian opposition forces instead. But that’s okay cos those opposition forces are Islamists of some sort, “jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaeda”.
- So our pan-imperial crusade against the Evil Death Cult turns out to be directed, not against the Evil Death Cult as such, but against anyone vaguely associated with any kind of (Sunni) Islamism – a shifting of focus that just happens to put the Syrian opposition in the crosshairs, the very same Syrian opposition that David Cameron was only last week claiming would be a “boots on the ground” army willing to do the West’s bidding. Assad’s assault on Homs, crux of the Syrian revolution, gets an explicit thumbs up from Boris.
- To recap: we are so against ISIS’s evil death cult that we side with the guy doing the bulk of the killing Syria in his battle against, well, not actually ISIS at all, but some other folk who happen to either be Islamists or be allied to them, which of course makes them as bad as if not worse than ISIS, despite the fact that they are actually fighting ISIS, unlike Assad who isn’t. Hurray for Western Logic.
- Since Boris can’t justify siding with Assad out of concern for Syrian lives, concern for their artefacts will have to do instead. We need to get ISIS out of Palmyra, that “fabled pink-stoned city of monuments”, because “if Syria is to have a future then we must protect its past”. Palmyra’s antiquities represent civilisation, you see, while the beleagured popular forces in Syria, battling Assad and ISIS and Putin and now perhaps the West, are brutes to be exterminated
- To those tempted to think – okay, this is a fuck-up, but maybe it could have been different, maybe if we’d bombed X rather than Y or been smart rather than dumb or backed the good guys rather than the bad guys or shot up this rather than that – no. Bombing Assad two years ago wouldn’t have helped, bombing him now won’t help either. The truth is there isn’t anything the British state can do with its military to sort out this mess. Interventions like this never meet their stated goals, and typically set off unforeseen consequences that pile on the horror for people on the ground. That’s why they are always a bad idea.