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The costs of not acting, as well as acting

“But please, let’s not now pile hypocrisy on top of our grotesque abdication of responsibility. No more hand-wringing. No further calls for “something to be done”. Nothing is going to be done. Because we don’t actually want it to be done. Yes, we want the horrors of Syria to disappear. We want Assad to disappear. But we want someone else to make them disappear for us, so we can go back to congratulating ourselves about how we stood tall for peace.”

Dan Hodges

He raises the uncomfortable fact that, while non-interventionists can clearly state, with a lot of hard evidence to back them up, that intervening by military means can just make things worse, lead to a quagmire, etc, doing nothing also can have its costs. And he’s right to say that anyone who complains about Assad, and the other side, has no real credibility without at least stating what could or should have been done about it instead.  Of course, if Western politicians say, “The situation is terrible, both if we get involved and if we don’t. Life is a bitch sometimes but there it is,” they are not going to be very popular.

17 comments to The costs of not acting, as well as acting

  • Johnnydub

    What is going on in Syria is yet another Iran – Saudi, Shia – Sunni proxy war.

    Do you want to pick a side to win? Who’s enmity do you want to earn?

    Not to mention that Russia and China have both indicated obliquely than direct interference would likely start a major global conflict..

    I’m sorry for all the deaths and losses…. but we simply lose more than we gain by interfering in a intra-Muslim civil war…

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so J.P. – there is so much that can not be said.

    For example, if Mr Cameron were to say “we do not want Syrian refugees here – not the MUSLIM ones” there would be screams of horror. So even if one has terrible doubts about the belief system of Islam – one can not state these doubts clearly (if one has a position in public life).

    So one has to burble.

    Ditto Syria itself.

    If one were to say…..

    “One side is supported by Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia – and they are both horrible” then the anger of the BBC (and so on) would be almost impossible to withstand.

    So one had to say something about most Syrians being lovely people and the problem being Assad and his thugs on one side and a few nasty groups on the other side.

    The trouble is that this P.C. gag everyone has to wear produces terrible policy

    For example, in Afghanistan and Iraq everyone (whether for or against the wars) had to pretend that the general population were nice.

    They (or at least a rather high proportion of them) are not nice – not nice at all. They are mostly (at least officially) supporters of a philosophy that holds that Mohammed was a wonderful human being and everyone should be like him (read Robert Spencer and Raymond Ibra… or what that means).

    But one could not say they were not nice – or even THINK so (in case one uttered one’s thoughts aloud – and ended one’s life in politics, indeed in polite society, branded as a “racist”).

    Therefore policy is based on the false assumption that the general population is nice – and that problem is just a few nasty dictators and terrorist groups.

    This is also a general problem for libertarianism – part of a larger problem.

    Libertarianism (in its pure anarcho-capitalist form) holds that the problem is the state – that without the state things would be better. Even minarchist (minimal state) libertarians tend to believe that if the state exists the people should control it.

    But what if most people (or even a large minority) do not accept the nonaggression principle?

    What happens if most (or even a large minority) people want to do dreadful things – because “the Prophet” did and they want to be like him?

    Nor is this just a matter of Islam.

    Take the example of Argentina.

    There people (most people?) believe in “Social Justice” – i.e. that “the poor” have the right to take the stuff of “the rich” by force.

    If the police are on strike – the “masses” just go out looting.

    But the police are under the control of the state – and the government is elected by the people…..

    No surprise then that the government likes looting (and doing various other bad things) also.

    Once most people (or even a large minority of people) are bad (once they have terrible ideas – terrible beliefs) no system (libertarian or any other) is going to work.

  • thoughtful ape

    JP: You state ‘Of course, if Western politicians say, “The situation is terrible, both if we get involved and if we don’t. Life is a bitch sometimes but there it is,” they are not going to be very popular.’

    Why do you think that is the case? What part of such a statement is offensive to the average voter?

  • Paul Marks

    Johnnydub – we already have the enmity of both sides (Sunni and Shia) whether we intervene or not.

    Of course there are also Christians in the Middle East – whom the Assad regime claim to protecting (their Iranian and “Party of God” Shia warriors are not really friends of the Christians).

    All over the Middle East the “dogs” (Christians) are going to go the same way the “pigs” (Jews) went decades ago. It does not matter that these communities have existed for thousands of years – their time to die has come. Unless they leave the lands ruled by Islam.

    And it will not make any difference whether the warriors of the Green Flag or the warriors of the Black Flag are victorious.

  • Mr Ed

    Well a possible solution is to move the Christians from Syria into the West Bank and Gaza, re-form the Alawite State in the west of Syria and to let the majority Islamic occupants of the West Bank and Gaza swap places with the displaced Christians, thereby removing Muslims for proximity to Israel and Israeli ‘oversight’ and to give the Christians in the West Bank a reason to wish for Israeli protection, but this would do massive violence to property rights all round and displace many people from their ancestral homes, and put a load of talking heads out of work.

    If one were to point out that for its entire existence Syria has been an enemy of the West and freedom, Gulf War I excepted, the question might be “Would any other dominant political group in Syria have behaved any differently?” The country seems doomed to be ruled by either Socialist or Islamist thugs and cut-throats. They need to change a lot of people’s attitudes before they can establish any hope of peace. The nasty ones set the pace of politics, just as in 1930s Germany, even if the majority are nice and peaceful, there are too many thugs, for now anyway. Perhaps, sadly, there is no solution except to watch as the extremists wipe each other out.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    People are very prone to binary thinking. They assume that because Assad is a mass murdering psychopath, we should be backing the Al-Qaeda backed rebels, who are also mass murdering psychopaths. Of course, two groups of psychopaths trying to kill one another is actually a pretty good thing, especially if you wait till one wins in a weakened state and then finish him off too ;-). The problem with Syria is that a whole swathe of people who have done nothing to deserve it are caught between the two groups of nutters.

    My suggestions for dealing with this situation are any of the following:
    1 – Do nothing
    2 – Do nothing, but offer all non-combatants asylum
    3 – Attack both the rebels and the government and then install a benign dictatorship founded on free market principles – hey presto a Hong Kong of the Middle East ;-)

    My preference is for 2 or 3 personally, but I don’t see it happening.

  • Gene

    I think what Hodges says needed to be said, though I don’t think it’s relevant to Syria as it might be to some future situation that is SIMPLER. A lot of people, including libertarian-ish types, are dead-set against intervention in Syria and so am I, because the situation is so complicated and because I don’t believe there is likely to be a workable way to proceed that is not likely to make the situation worse.

    However … many non-interventionists will take that same attitude into literally every other situation and I’m not so quick to take that course. If some identifiable, innocent and large group of people find themselves in need of some organized violence on their behalf (remember Rwanda?), and if there’s literally only one nation on earth with both a) the ability and b) a possible interest in helping for not entirely selfish reasons (the USA and only the USA), I don’t think an attitude of “Sorry, we’ll just have to let those people die,” is anything to be proud of. In other words, non-interventionists only occasionally have the moral high ground. Most of the time, they’re rolling around in the moral mud with all the rest of us.

  • Well my views on Syria have not changed at all. The only involvement from the west should be selling ammunition to both sides.

  • Mr Ed

    Perry, I see a Libertarian PR ‘opportunity’, chartering a Hercules C-130 and dropping ammo over Damascus, having negotiated safe passage from all sides, and funding it from private donations. You see, government isn’t always needed for war. (sarc.)

  • Well if the ammo supplier is not going to get paid maybe they can sell advertisements on the side of the crates. “This crate of 81mm mortar bombs is brought to you by The Ahmed al Sheik Burqua Emporium, helping YOU meet your 72 virgins!”

  • jerry

    There is always the plaintive cry of
    ‘They’ll HATE us !!!’
    I got news for you, they ALREADY hate us ( non-muslims ) whether we act in any way or not.
    What are they going to do ?
    Hate us MORE ??
    So what ??!!!
    Pick a side, or, as Perry suggests, pick both sides and to hell with what they ‘think of us’

  • Laird Minor

    Mr Ed, I was going to donate but the link isn’t working. Too bad.

  • Gareth

    Dan Hodges it entirely wrong to write:

    But the truth is there wasn’t. And it didn’t really bother us. We preferred to do nothing. We preferred to protect “our boys”. We preferred to protect the Middle East from further Western “adventurism”. Wwe preferred to protect our consciences from another Iraq.

    The vote in the Commons was an atrocious setup. Intelligence reports were released after the fact that I am sure would have convinced Parliament to vote for intervention. That intelligence should have been released early enough to form part of the British government’s case but for some reason it wasn’t. It did eventually form part of the US government’s case but everyone seemed already geared up for a UK yes to intervention sealing the deal for a US yes vote to follow. It was a shameless episode and demonstrated that the government is tone deaf about its reputation on security matters as other MPs see it.

    As a result of the UK no vote the UK taxpayer has been committed to spending over £600 million on aid. Jolly generous of us…

  • Runcie Balspune

    The issue about intervention is why is it being done and what the intended result should be, in Iraq and Afghanistan we intervened but did nothing to alter the result, both countries are virtual theocracies where asserting your basic human rights will get you a death penalty, the deception in these interventions was not the reasons but the aspired results, and they fell far short of expectations of some kind of liberal democracy we were told would replace the regime we deposed. In Syria we see the latest round in a 1,400 year old conflict that started over the successor to the Prophet, if intervention takes place then what would be the expected result, does Mr Hodges believe we can seriously affect this centuries old conflict to some conclusion?

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed – you show rational thinking. Your plan might not work – but it is as rational.

    Its rationality means that your plan has no place in politics.

    Remember we are not even allowed (in public)to make a distinction between Christian Syrians and Muslim ones. Or between the various sects of Islam.

    We have to pretend (as to both sides in the war) that all people are the same and that goal should be a “multi cultural, multi ethnic Syrian”.

    In public politicians are not allowed to be in favour of anything else – otherwise “racist” gets screamed at them.

    So rationality has no chance – none.

    Partition would be the least-bad option (with Mr Assad’s sect taking the coastal region, the Kurds taking the north east of Syria – and so on).

    But to advocate it brings down the wrath of the P.C. army.

    The position of Christians in Israel is interesting.

    In Israel proper they are allowed to speak their minds – be pro or anti Israel.

    In the “West Bank” (much of which is closer to the sea than to the Jordan river) what few Christians who remain (the forces of Islam have driven out most of them) have to parrot anti Israeli slogans (for the BBC and so on) or the forces of Islam kill them.

    It is a degraded existence – having to pretend to love your real oppressors (the forces of Islam) and hate the only people who treat you as human (the Israelis).

    Whether this would change if there were more Christians in the area I simply do not now.

  • As you know Paul, there used to be many more Christians in the area only a few decades ago – they left in droves both Israel proper and the PA. They left the latter for the reasons you pointed out, and they left the former for similar reasons: they were driven out by Muslims. And no, they cannot fully speak their minds in favor of Israel within Israel proper either, because it gets them in trouble with their Muslim “brethren”, and the Israeli government doesn’t seem to care much. Neither does the Israeli public, sadly.