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:


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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Show comments
  • The Masked Marvel

    One fully expects to see a return of all those ‘human shields’ who rushed to defend innocent Iraqis back when Sadaam was in charge. Over to you, human rights campaigners.

  • kyalami

    If we should get involved, maybe we should try some “asymmetrical warfare” of our own. E.g use drones to identify the weak spots, use special forces and Apaches to attack, then get out. Maximise damage to vulnerable spots, maximise casualties, maximise nervousness.

    (I don’t think we should get involved, BTW. But if we do, let’s do maximum damage for minimum cost.)

    • alexa44

      I wonder if the UN will than excuse you of war crimes.

  • kyalami

    Who is giving ISIS the weapons?

  • Sean Raymond

    The fate of non Moslems, not just in Iraq but across the entire Moslem majority world, should be a stain on the conscience of all those Moslems and their apologists who remain button lipped to their genocide whilst they busy themselves supporting the terrorist activities of the Palestinians. I simply cannot believe that this sustained massacre, which should be reverberating around the world, has been meet with such a deafening silence for so long. Christian children are being crucified and having their severed heads stuck on poles, women are raped and all the while we see Moslems and their apologists aiming their outrage at Israel for defending itself against this very same Islamic threat.

    It has long seemed clear to me that Moslems and their apologists have a hierarchal approach to atrocities, with Christians considered a lesser breed and not worthy of their vehement outrage – that is saved for the Jews and the West in general. Indeed, this whole genocide is made worse by the duplicitous refusal of Moslems and the left to be honest about why this is happening and are again true to form (just like in Gaza), being very specific in their reports to tease out Islam from any culpability thereby supporting their astonishingly well established deceptive lie that Islam has nothing to do with such heartbreaking carnage.

    The ruse they are using to propagate this myth this time? That Moslems are also dying at the hands of ISIS therefore it cannot possibly have anything to do with Islam. I do hope people do not fall for such a fallacy because the facts are that in the eyes of ISIS they are not Moslem and so the treatment espoused in Islam’s holy texts apply to them just as it does Christians, Jews and Polytheists. ISIS completely believes that they are simply doing what Islam’s doctrine tells them to do – bring the world under Islamic hegemony. One only needs to listen to what they say and do to see Islam is intimately related to their motives. If we look at Islam’s historical record we see that this is really not new stuff – we have seen the exact same thing happening time and time again across North Africa, the Middle and far East as well as of course the Indian sub continent (where an estimated 90 million Hindus were slaughtered in the name of Islam).

    Finally, I do hope that it has been lost on no-one that whilst Moslems are also tragically dying at the hands of ISIS, because their fate has been met at the hands of other Moslems this fact seems to perversely placate their rage. This leads one to plausibly conclude that Moslems and the left are actually unperturbed by Moslems dying just so long as it is Moslems doing it. We saw a similar thing in Iraq/Afghanistan – when, whilst under the rule of Saddam and the Taliban; Moslems were most definitely being horrifically oppressed, raped and slaughtered by these most tyrannical of regimes. I do not recall seeing any self righteous Moslem ever decrying this fact. However, as soon as the West moved in, by and large to instill democracy and free said Moslems from this repression, the Moslem world took to the airwaves and streets denouncing this liberation as occupation. This inversion of the truth astounded me and was made more troubling by the fact that they were allowed to get away with it. Even more odious is that these Moslems and the left actually suggest that any subsequent retribution by Moslems, by way of terrorism for example, is actually justified as a result. You can’t make this up.

  • lookout

    Perhaps Obama’s just watched the videos on Walid

  • Roger Hudson

    Did you notice how the TV journalists gave up reporting from Damascus, it looked too civilised and the people too happy to live as before, they wanted to see just horror.
    Britain backed the wrong side in Syria, thinking it was supporting iPad waving progressives it found it was supporting medieval nutters. Now these nutters have gone off to slaughter tens of thousands of christians and others who just want to live in peace.
    Intervention should be just to save people from fundamental islam, abroad and in the UK.

  • Augustus

    The IS killing machine just goes on and on. An aggressive plague is sweeping the world, because in Europe too there are loads of IS and Salafist supporters, including those crazy European converts who have now ‘discovered’ their true religion. And what they have discovered is pure undiluted violence. It’s now the great utopia of the 21st century. This evil plague, both in and outside Europe, must be fought at all costs. Now and not later.

  • John Gerard

    Barry has already telegraphed to ISIS “Guys, don’t worry – it will just be a few warning shots. I just need to be seen to be ‘doing something’, you know? I’m sure you understand. Love, B. xx”

    Frankenstein lost control of his monster, didn’t he?

  • alabenn

    Why not do the most sensible of the wrong things, back Assad with a few US Apache gunships and a few Warthog tank busters, ironic is it not, the two clowns Obama and Cameron wanted to pimp the countries armies to these creatures, better still let them slaughter each other.

  • Mynydd

    If Mr Cameron’s intervention in Libya, to stop the massacre of Muslims, was justified, then surely it’s only right to intervene in Iraq, to stop the massacre of Christians. Of course he could have been put off intervention when he had to sent a war ship to rescue Brits from his two year old friends in Libya

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Remind us who took us into Iraq in the first place? Labour Troll.

  • altsegel

    1 The defeat of radical islam
    2 Use of ground troops, tanks, missiles etc
    3 Win or lose – the future freedom of all human kind

    By radical Islam I mean Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and the Iranian regime. Point two means an army of liberation of all free countries and 3 we are in this until radical Islam is just a pale memory – a defunct political canard much like Communism and fascism.

  • CharlietheChump

    3 rules of intervention:
    1. Don’t
    2. Don’t
    3. Don’t

  • Iain Hill

    Iraq, great to have you back! They seem incapable of staying out of Muslim States. Well, Yes will win now, but at what a price for the poor Iraqis.

    • Roger Hudson

      No, this time we can kill insane muslims and save christians and yazidis, a worthwhile attack.

  • telemachus

    “David Cameron has welcomed Barack Obama’s decision.”
    But what is he doing
    Besides looking at a fish market in Cornwall

    • CharlietheChump

      I think that was yesterday, do keep up!

    • Iain Hill

      As usual, saying nothing and doing even less. Ghost of Bliar hovering?

      • Kitty MLB

        Oh yes Blair the man with blood on his hands and a black void of a soul sold to the devil. He must be quite happy about this. And walk over the graves of those who sacrificed their lives for someone else’s
        war that will never end. Because they like killing and dying.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      What do you suggest he does? Labour Troll.

      • telemachus

        Home stat
        Recall Parliament
        Send in the RAF and if ISIS do not crumble boots

        • girondas2

          “if ISIS do not crumble boots”
          preferably yours telemachus – your gang of clowns created this awful mess.

    • The Masked Marvel

      So you’re a warmonger now? Two months ago you were part of the “we’ve done enough damage in Iraq” crowd. You were against removing Sadaam and Qaddafi, (possibly Assad as well, but I can’t recall), but you’re now for intervention in Iraq?

      Make up your mind.

  • Colin

    Well, this is going to get interesting. What we are potentially talking about doing here is to attack, in Iraq, the same animals that we (The West) are effectively backing in Syria. How does that work? I never cease to be amazed at the special kind of cleverness, possessed by those who advise those who govern us.

    • Iain Hill

      It’s about the best financial opportunity in each place, dear.

    • dado_trunking

      we are ‘effectively backing’ whom in Syria?

      • Colin

        The animals, currently lined up against Assad. Keep up.

        • dado_trunking

          And your intelligence source is what?