Coffee House

Should we really bomb Syria ‘for show’?

28 August 2013

‘Syria won’t go away if we just shut our eyes,’ says the newly ennobled Daniel Finklestein, in today’s Times (£). What he proposes instead is that we support the Prime Minister, then close our eyes and intervene. It is better to do something than nothing. Who knows what will happen? But at least we will have shown the bad guys that we mean business. (Don’t let’s talk about the other bad guys, for now, those heart-eaters on YouTube who will benefit if the West moves against Assad. That will only complicate matters.)

What nonsense these liberal interventionists spout. Finklestein cites the Korean War as a reason to attack in Syria. ‘The war was hugely unpopular and nearly resulted in disastrous military defeat,’ he says. ‘But the Korean war signalled to the Soviet Union that the United States would act if it pushed things too far.’ Never mind George Kennan’s policy of containment; by this logic, the cold war was won because America showed the Soviets that they were up for a fight, no matter how pointless it was. It’s all about symbolism, you see. ‘If all we do in the West is act for show it will still be worthwhile,’ adds Lord Fink, returning to the Syrian question. Sorry? Act for show? What are you talking about? Do you really think that a bombing campaign can be just a gesture, pour décourager les autres?

Finkelstein says that the West doesn’t want to be guilty of ‘omission bias’, the mistake that referees in sports matches make of choosing to do nothing rather than something. But when I hear politicians like David Cameron telling us that we ‘cannot stand by’, and his cheerleaders in the press urging him on, I feel like singing the football terrace chant that is always directed at bungling, interfering officials: ‘You don’t know what you’re doing! You don’t know what you’re doing!’

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Show comments
  • Ammit Quibilah

    I am struggling to understand how this is even a possible outcome to responding to a chemical attack in another country. Part of me thinks it’s slightly iffy due to the fact that I was reading articles a month or so ago which were claiming that François Hollande – president of France was investigating the strong possibilty of the US government who were using chemical weapons against Syria. Now when you try and Google for those articles, only the recent stories of this new war and the claims that it was the Syrian government comes up.

    Personally I think Amercia shut France up. One way or another. If you can’t beat them, joint them sort of situation…

    Also, how is it logical to think – “People are being killed by their own government. This is wrong. To show that this is wrong our government must send in land troops, drones and fighter planes to kill more of their people”…

    Correct me if I am wrong, but “going to war to prevent war is the most stupid thing I ever heard.”


  • simmo70


    Syria is the latest victim of the West trying to impose
    its will on the Middle East.Blair tried coercion with Assad when he first took
    over and was politely asked to leave after meddling too far .Similarly Iraq and
    then Libya were forced into Wars that left Western Powers in control. The
    former Foreign Secretary said extracts of letters between Blair & Bush have
    been held back to save the ex-PM’s
    reputation.Lord Owen made the
    astonishing claim that Mr Cameron had backed Mr Blair’s decision to
    block the publication of the letters in return for his ‘neutrality or tacit
    support’ at the next general election.

    The Lockerbie bomber’s release was linked to a
    £400million arms deal with Libya, secret documents reveal. David Cameron’s
    support for the Syrian uprising has been questioned after revelations that his
    top aide’s firm worked for the rebels.CORRUPTION seems to be the reason for

  • EndTheNeoliberalConsensus

    That hypocritical moment when small government free market personal freedom propagandists push for a tax-payer funded, self-interested intervention in another country’s affairs with predictable results.

    They have no beliefs other than conforming to the failed ad hoc neo-liberal hegemony to enhance their desperate careers and don’t deserve to be listened to ever again.

    Turn to the alternative.

  • tokoloshiman

    Syria is a seething gordian knot of impossibly bad outcomes.

  • Iain Hill

    Is there anyone who can make a rational and convincingl intellectual case for ordinary people (ie not political mush and sabre rattling instead of hard evidence) that we actually know where these chemicals are, and what else lies in the same area, that we have genuinely the capacity and skills for a “surgical” strike that will harm no one else (ie no crocodile tears later re collateral damage), that there will be no civilian casualties as a direct result of the bombing, and that there will then be no adverse consequences for the uk either here or elsewhere?

    I would love to hear it, instead of the usual threadbare political assertions of certainty and confidence, which are widely disbelieved.but which will no doubt resurface tomorrow.

  • anneallan

    So it’s just a show? All those bodies and cripples are merely extras who will get up the moment the curtain falls? Will it run as long as the Mousetrap?

  • Eyesee

    We have strange ways of viewing things do we not? For years Assad has been a nasty piece of work but we were reasonably relaxed about a bit of torture, murder etc. Then, when there is a proper war going on, with some nasty outside influences at work we decide that whilst killing is OK, you shouldn’t use chemical weapons. (The explosion of a shell is a chemical reaction, but hey, you know what they mean). So we let it get to this stage and then have a hissy fit. Doesn’t seem right somehow. I wonder if Assad would reply that we allow ‘healthcare’ workers to kill 1200 people in the Midlands (and countless others all over the country) so where are the warships and the threatened missile strikes for such state controlled terror? You have to decide what your basic morality is and then stick to it at all times. The hospital criminals should have been imprisoned and Assad should have been forced earlier, to adopt more open government. Not kick him out, show him there is another way. It doesn’t have to be our style of democracy but people shouldn’t fear their government and should at least have more say. Am I asking for a level of maturity that is simply beyond a politician?

  • Radford_NG

    Historically the Korean war was not unpopular;except in the sense that all wars are.

    • Colonel Mustard

      In Finkelstein’s context that is a red herring anyway. The response was to the invasion of a sovereign state by another and formulated by the UN. There is no comparison with Assad’s fight against an internal insurgency.

    • Span Ows

      Only because most of the population don’t know anything about it: when it was, what it was for, what started it, who ‘won’ etc. Put those questions and I bet less than 10% get them all right.

  • Billy Smith

    Dmitry Rogozin has a point: “The West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade.”

    • greggf

      Did he have anyone in particular in mind…..?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    You`re not buying this load of old dingoes` kidneys are you Britisher pals?

  • Gawain

    Little Englanders like Mr. Gray are just as irritating as the Liberal Interventionists. This article does not address the very good point that Mr. Finkelstein makes that the Gray approach has been a complete disaster. Follow this approach and Assad will end up ruling most of Syria under Iranian & Russian direction with large parts of the rest controlled by Al Quaeda and other jihadists supported by Sunni states. Even if you disregard the effects on the local population this is not a result that will make me feel very safe. Tell us Mr. Gray what the positive result of your approach will be instead of slagging off anyone who doesn’t agree with you.

    • NotYouNotSure

      The Assads have been ruling Syria for decades, as I far as I am aware, almost nobody in Britain ever claimed to feel unsafe because of this.

      • Gawain

        You have missed the point. The Assad family used to rule the whole of Syria. If you follow the Gray “do nothing and it will all go away” approach they are likely to end up ruling most of Syria but very large parts of the country will be controlled by Al Quaeda and other jihadists. They will also be entirely dependent on Russia and Iran, together with their Hizbollah allies, which was not previously the case. Oh, and in addition they will have free reign to lob nerve gas at whoever they want. At the airbases we have in Cyprus, for example. The point that Mr. Finkelstein made is that doing nothing has led to this mess and continuing to do nothing may be just as risky as facing up to the problem. Still perhaps we could take the Gray football lout approach and just shout “Who are ya” at them. Perhaps that’ll keep them away.

        • NotYouNotSure

          Sending weapons, sending agents on the ground to train rebels, hosting rebel governments in your country, that it not doing nothing, its made things worse.

          They wanted to topple Assad without ever thinking that the various ethnic/religious groups will fight each other regardless. They approached this as if its a Tom Clancy novel, once the bad guy is gone all the people will be dancing in the streets with joy. One could be forgiven if this was the first time it was done, but after Iraq, this is unforgivable.

          • Gawain

            Well, as far as this government is concerned we haven’t been sending weapons or training the rebels so the “they” you are referring to must be the Saudis and the Qataris. They aren’t going to stop if we continue to sit on our hands. These people are now gassing each other. At some point we are going to have to deal with this, unfortunately.

            • chui1996

              Why? It is none of our business.

              • Gawain

                I beg to differ. Firstly, this war is causing a large displacement of people to Jordan and Turkey. Both are countries we want to do business with and Syria now threatens to de stabilise them. If we want to diversify our trade away from Europe we will need countries like this. Secondly, the use of nerve gas as a weapon is prohibited by international treaties which we, together with 189 other countries have signed up to. In that sense, the madness in Syria is every country’s business. Lastly, we are part if a global community and this type of nastiness has an impact on that community. In my view we should think seriously about doing something to stop the use of these weapons or it is likely to spread.

                • MirthaTidville

                  Very simplistic..You missed out the bit about who actually lobbed the chemicals in the first place….its far from certain Assad did. You seem very keen for the lunatics to take over the asylum….Inshallah indeed

                • Gawain

                  You obviously have as much trouble reading as you do punctuating ! I fully accept that both sides may be using chemical weapons against each other but that would just strengthen the argument for intervention. A world in which chemical weapons are used against civilians is not something to be applauded or to be as flippant about as you are.

                • Not a Number

                  But its OK for Islamic terrorists to kill and eat the organs of Syrian civilians?

                • Gawain

                  No, it is vile, illegal and is yet another strong point which reinforces Danny Finkelstein’s argument. The West has failed to act and the war in Syria has, with Iranian, Hizbollah & Russian interference become more and more barbarous. If we continue to fail to act the type of barbarity you describe will escalate and spread and the world will have an even worse problem.

                • John Clegg

                  OK then, I’ll hold your coat, off you go then.

  • David B

    There appears to be no strategy to win. No idea what winning would even look like. Our best option is to do nothing because doing something has no benefit to us. What is worse is neither side wants our help.

    If Tony Blair wants military intervention history tells us its probably the wrong answer

    • Iain Hill

      We should be told! Why were his sons’ applications to join the armed forces and serve on the front line refused?

      I beg the media not to give this warmonger an iota of space!

  • Abhay

    Kerry’s recent speech was scary. It seems they have made up their minds to intervene. Countdown to disaster begins.

  • GUBU

    The fact that international man of mystery Tony Blair is exhorting us to bomb Syria from the deck of some billionaire’s yacht should be enough to give everyone pause for thought…

    • Mr Grumpy

      I got to your meaning in the end, but the idea of commandeering Tone’s mate’s yacht (and of course sending it into action with him still on board) does have a certain appeal.

      • GUBU

        Indeed it does, though I suspect that the Syrian regime would only begin to panic if they learnt that Cherie was also on board.

  • Colonel Mustard


  • Colin Forbes

    It’s just Danny the Fink earning his ermine.

    • DrCoxon

      A serious mistake to have accepted the ermine. Will he ever again be taken seriously as a journalist?

  • crosscop

    “Testimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.

    Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss TV there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” that rebels seeking to oust Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad had used the nerve agent.

    But she said her panel had not yet seen any evidence of Syrian government forces using chemical weapons, according to the BBC, but she added that more investigation was needed.”

    So, when do we bomb the rebels?

    • chan chan

      This is about the previous attack, not the one last week. The story is dated May. Or perhaps you’re saying because they did the last one, they did this one. I can’t tell what you mean.

      • Pootles

        Crosscop means that if the alleged Syrian government gas attack is reason enough for an air and missile war aimed at the government side, then other, alleged, rebel gas attacks should also have triggered an air and missile attack on the rebels. Quite simple, really

      • Mr Grumpy

        He means that if the rebels have used gas, be it this week, last week or in May, then by the interventionists’ logic we should be bombing them. If both sides have used gas we should be bombing both sides. Not really such a difficult concept, is it?

  • Martin Adamson

    We hate Assad because he rules by fear, he tortures and gasses his own people. The al-Qaeda-led opposition hate Assad because he is a heretic, he tolerates other heretics, he allows non-Muslims to take positions of political power, he allows Christians to practice their faith freely and he allows women important positions of power, independence and responsibility. Does Danny Finkelstein tell us how he plans to reconcile our aims with those of our new de facto allies?

    • Austin Barry

      I tend to agree with former U.S. Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, who observed that striking Syria would turn the United States military into “al-Qaeda’s air force”.

      Cameron and Hague should stop acting like outraged bleeding hearts from a “Question Time” audience and man-up. The U.K has no interest in Syria and there’s no reason for us to slide down the evolutionary ladder and involve ourselves in neverending Muslim mayhem.

      • Mynydd

        Or it could be the RAAF – The Royal Al-Qaeda Air Forcce.

    • ZP ZAP

      Who is “we”. Speak for yourself asshole. I hate Obama…

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