Magazine article The Spectator

The Folly of Bombing Syria

Magazine article The Spectator

The Folly of Bombing Syria

Article excerpt

Air-powered 'intervention-lite' in civil wars like Syria's isn't just ineffective - it's cruel and immoral

'When you've shouted Rule Britannia, when you've sung God Save the Queen, when you've finished killing Kruger with your mouth...' So wrote Kipling derisively of the domestic cheerleaders of the Boer War. The lines came to mind this week as the Commons again strained at the leash of war. Horrified by the Aleppo atrocities, MPs dug deep into the jaded rhetoric of a superannuated great power.

They vied for abuse to hurl at the Syrian and Russian forces laying siege to the wretched city. There were the obligatory parallels with Hitler. The Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, spoke of 'events that match the behaviour of the Nazi regime in Guernica'. He wanted a no fly zone and a safe haven. Others wanted 'action not words'. It was unthinkable to 'stand idly by'. To a modern MP, something must always 'be done', even something stupid like shooting down Russian planes.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, replied that he hoped to 'persuade both sides to have a ceasefire, and work towards a solution'. This bliss would be achieved by 'demonstrations outside the Russian embassy'. Putin must have roared with laughter.

Not a week passes without some new horror emanating from the vortex of the Middle East. So called 'wars among the peoples' are, like all civil wars, distinctively terrible. Cities deaden the impact of an infantry advance. Reckless bombing takes over and accidents happen. Saudi Arabia bombs a funeral party in Sanaa. Russia bombs an aid convoy and a hospital in Aleppo. Western planes bomb friendly troops outside Mosul. There is no appetite for British troops on the ground. All talk is of bombing, intervention lite.

Britain has already contributed enough to Syria's hell. It helped America create a power vacuum in neighbouring Iraq where Isis could form and flourish. It then encouraged and gave material support to the rebels against Assad in 2012, ensuring that he would need support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. All intelligence at the time said Assad would never back down. Downing Street rejected it and bolstered the opposition. This duly sucked in Isis from Iraq. It is hard to think of a more disastrous semi intervention.

The maelstrom of Aleppo shows yet again the weakness of bombing in trying to defeat a determined army in a big city. Bombs turn ruins into fortresses. Bombs can devastate property and kill those inside it. But as strategic weapons they are near useless. Nato air forces claimed bombing Belgrade would induce Milosevic to leave Kosovo in 1999. Nato's General Klaus Naumann said afterwards that it merely hastened ethnic cleansing, killing some 500 Serb civilians. Milosevic withdrew only when Nato invaded.

Bombing was going to drive the Taleban out of Kabul in 2001. The northern army did that, while bombs killed some 4,000 civilians. Bombing was going to avoid the need for a ground assault on Saddam in 2003, just as five years earlier it was said to have 'totally eliminated' his weapons of mass destruction.

Some 12,000 coalition bombing sorties have been directed at Isis in northern Iraq in the past two years. Tens of thousands of civilians have died in the 'collateral' carnage. In Syria, the human rights network estimates that Russian bombs have killed more Syrian civilians than Isis. Last year the Americans bombed an MSF hospital in Afghanistan. …

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