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Coffee House

The three golden rules of intervention

8 August 2014

9:05 AM

8 August 2014

9:05 AM

Barack Obama has authorised the use of targeted airstrikes in Iraq against forces of the Islamic State, which are hell-bent on massacring Yazidi and Christian minorities, and threatening American assets and citizens. David Cameron has welcomed Barack Obama’s decision.

There are already voices calling for wider deeper intervention; special forces and conventional ground troops have been mentioned by former US generals and diplomats.

Interventions have a habit of escalating, a point that Douglas Murray made in The Spectator this time last year when Barack Obama and David Cameron were preparing to intervene in Syria. Douglas urged Obama and Cameron (and any other statesmen considering intervention) to prepare throroughly:

[Alt-Text]


The repercussions of many interventions in recent years suggest that there are three golden rules.  Never get involved unless you are clear on your objective. Never pursue that objective unless you are willing to go in far further if needed. And finally, be prepared to lose everything.

‘At present there is no clear objective in Syria. Everyone deplores the regime’s use of weapons — chemical and conventional. Sending a few missiles as a slap on the wrist could be weak and ineffectual. Toppling Assad is an option. But to what end? He is certainly bad, but the alternatives look even worse.  Anybody can spot plenty of ‘bad guys’ in the Syrian civil war. It is finding the ‘good’ ones that is tricky. In addition, we have neither the desire nor the capability to own the country if our actions break it. There is no appetite to go further than dropping liberty from 10,000 feet. Given the quality of Syrian air defences, is Cameron willing to lose pilots this time? Or be dragged further in if a post-Assad Syria makes post-Saddam Iraq look like a cakewalk?

The diplomatic questions are just as ugly as the military ones. Is he willing to stand up to Russia and China? Is he willing to accept that the UN Security Council will not approve any action and that he will thus be ordering (ridiculous term) an ‘illegal war’? If he proceeds regardless, and things go badly wrong, is he willing — as Blair turned out to be — to stake his whole political career on a bloody and benighted country he barely knows?’

(Is Iraq today any different?)

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