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Coffee House

Should we really bomb Syria ‘for show’?

28 August 2013

9:52 AM

28 August 2013

9:52 AM

‘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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