Back in the heady days of 2013, when the discussions about bombing Syria in the name of truth, justice and the American way first rolled around, I got into discussion about the need to bomb. I, myself, was opposed to the bombing, but was open to the idea of humanitarian intervention. The other person was opposed to humanitarian intervention, and taking in refugees, but felt that bombing was necessary in order to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons.
When I pointed out that the likely outcome of this was just blasting a couple of places, killing a few people who were likely not involved in producing or using the chemical weapons, followed by a return to everyone being slaughtered with conventional weapons, he basically admitted he was fine with that. The point was to demonstrate to Assad, and the world, that we would not allow the barbarity of chemical weapons; merely the barbarity of guns, bombs, barrel-bombs and all manner of other horrors.
It strikes me that the current debate runs on the same track--there’s very little discussion of actual interventions that would make the situation better, plans on how to resolve the conflict and just generally stop the fighting. The imperative is all in the bombing and the appearing to do something.
This joins up with a sense I’ve had since the Iraq War went pear-shaped. It’s sometimes muttered that the Iraq War made intervention a dirty word and that’s why nobody can authorize boots on the ground anymore. This is true to an extent, but I think it misses the reason why somewhat. What the Iraq War exposed, like with Vietnam, was that it’s very difficult to achieve a ‘win’ in these kinds of situations. This is where the bombing comes in: it’s flashy, simple and, more to the point, makes it easy to declare ‘mission accomplished’.
The odd thing about nationalism is that we all, to a certain degree, live vicariously, through other’s achievements, or failures, and feel it at an emotional level, purely by dint of having been born on, or to, people from a particular hunk of rock. This is true of football and is also true of war. People, it seems, take great pride in victories in warfare, just as much as they feel angry about defeats, even when it’s very far away and doesn’t directly impact on them.
The imperative to bomb is linked to this. The politicians and their PR people (the media) want to have the vicarious pleasure of a ‘win’, but don’t want to risk the vicarious disappointment of a ‘loss’. This is, in a gendered sense, quite a male way to look at the world: seeing it as a competition, a test of strength and courage, where talk is for faint hearted weak-willed saps (the women), and all those other culturally conditioned ideas. This is, I think, infecting the discourse and not in a good way: as far as I can see there’s virtually no discussion about what we could actually do to help the situation in Syria (help refugees, make it easier for people to flee the violence, negotiate with Assad), in favour of chest thumping and stentorian declarations of our righteousness and, less explicitly, manliness; with anyone who opposes it denounced as traitors or pacifists (used in the pejorative sense).
I don’t have the answer on what to do in Syria and I’m not telling people how they should feel about it, particularly Syrians. I’m an idiot, miles away from the conflict, bashing out some ramblings.
But, from a UK perspective, I’m finding the way the discourse has been infected with the need to proclaim our strength and triumph, to virtual exclusion of almost any other kind of potential discussion, quite disturbing. Like I said, I’m not opposed to intervention even now: but it needs to be something that’s thought over, planned out, discussed and clearly set out what we’re going to do to help and how this is going to achieve our target. Not have an attitude where we’re so convinced of our rectitude, expertise and superior knowledge that we can just rush in and solve everything without having to have any plan worked out.
The latter is, culturally speaking, a very male mind-set to problem solving. And it’s a highly damaging one.