Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: The Shocks of August

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: The Shocks of August

Article excerpt

The old cliché that 'nothing happens in August' has again been brutally disproved. From the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war to the Russian invasion of Georgia six years ago, August is a month often packed with violence -- but rarely more so than this year.

In Syria, Christians are being crucified for refusing to convert to Islam. In northern Iraq, there are reports of mothers throwing their children from mountains rather than leaving them to the jihadis who are parading the severed heads of their victims. Russian convoys are rolling towards the Ukrainian border as Vladimir Putin tests the resolve of the West. Barack Obama has watched this unfold from his holiday spot in Martha's Vineyard; David Cameron from the Portuguese coast. The problem is not that our leaders have holidays. It is that the West lacks any real leadership at all.

Here, at home, there is pressure to recall parliament over the crisis in Iraq. Plenty of parliamentarians feel angry about what is happening, but few have any clear idea of what to do in response. Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, says that Isis must be defeated militarily and that a 'half-hearted and ineffectual intervention' will not do. Perhaps so, but Britain does not have a good recent record of effectual interventions -- our army was driven out of Basra by a far less well-equipped group of jihadists, and who would be brave enough to suggest that our intervention in Afghanistan was a success?

After his re-election in 2012, Barack Obama declared that 'a decade of war is now ending'. David Cameron sounds rather hawkish by comparison, even talking about the need to close down 'ungoverned spaces' in the Sahara desert. This is commendable, but even his own parliament struggles to take him at his word when the military budget has been slashed under his watch.

Last month, a new aircraft carrier was launched in Fife: the HMS Queen Elizabeth . Such events showcase a country's might, and its willingness to project force. But the F-35 aircraft on its deck was a plastic replica: the real fighters are behind budget and won't be ready until 2018. It was the perfect metaphor for Britain's hamstrung role in world affairs.

To date, Britain's response to the crisis provoked by Isis forces has been to airdrop humanitarian supplies, which may or may not reach their intended Yazidi recipients. America's response has been more of the same, along with some targeted strikes on certain Isis positions. …

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