The Graveyard of Empires

A few days ago I read a very surprising article by Robert Fisk, usually a journalist I admire and respect (as much for his political analysis as for his references to Tony Blair as ‘Lord Blair of Esfahan’), which essentially called for intervention in Syria.

Thankfully, the Western appetite for yet another Middle Eastern military excursion seems to have been whetted for quite a considerable time – Hague et al. are, with a shocking self-awareness, saying that there is a limited amount they can do – with no thanks to our steadfast refusal to look at the lessons of history.  We sailed breezily into Afghanistan, ignoring the previous three disastrous British campaigns there and the Soviet Union’s catastrophic failure in the 1980s – and that was from a country bordering Afghanistan, not one on the other side of the world.  In Iraq, in a nice inversion, we forgot all the examples we once held up as reasons that the Iranians would never defeat Saddam – the revolt against the British in the 1920s, for example – and resurrected the spectres of all the crimes we had deliberately forgotten, like Halabja and the USS Stark.  And in Libya, the insurrection against the Italians – to say nothing of the experience of the most recent exercise in Iraq – were speedily obliterated.  And in all, with the partial exception of Afghanistan, where there was organised opposition to the Taliban, we suddenly found that we were not welcomed as liberators, nor did the wars end as quickly as we had hoped.

Fisk, of all people, who has spent most of his career documenting the repeated madness of Western intervention in Arab nations, should be aware that trying to get involved in Syria would be pure idiocy.  Lebanon is the “graveyard of empires”, as he calls it in Pity the Nation – and justifiably, for the UN, Israel, the United States, Britain, France, and Syria have all at some point fled the country licking their wounds.  Syria is, as I have said before, combines the religious and ethnic diversity which has been so poisonously mismanaged in Lebanon with a much larger area, closer connections to Iran, and about 1.5 million Kurds.  The situation already threatens to dissolve into a proper three- or four-sided civil war à la Beyrouth, which would most likely involve some combination of Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, and Iran, on various sides.  The last thing the West should be baying for is to participate in the fracas.

Of course, the most cogent argument against meddling in Syria is that the Syrians don’t want it.  The opposition movement, fractured at the best of times, has doubtless seen what happened to the now-suspended National Transitional Council in Benghazi since the fulfillment of their plea for NATO to bomb Libya and has decided to go for a different path.  The final-warning messages from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain (someone pinch me!), and Qatar, plus the less hypocritical ones from Russia, Brazil and Turkey, will have far more clout with Assad’s government than anything that the West says or does.  In the end, though, the news that Iran’s ambassador is withdrawing from Damascus at the end of Ramadan “in case the regime collapses” is perhaps the surest indicator that The End is Near.  What happens next is anyone’s guess.

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