The UK has voted against supporting American intervention in Syria without UN backing, and the picture that is emerging seems muddier by the minute. It looks as if the rebels - or one group of rebel forces - may have got hold of nerve gas, and the attack was in fact an accident.
I heard the present Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey, General Sir John McColl, speaking at a Chamber of Commerce Lunch about a year or so ago. Sir John spent 40 years in the army, which included deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. His talk was on the subject of "The Importance of Economics in Conflict Resolution", and his essential point was that "Politics and Economics win wars, not soldiers". In particular, regarding Iraq, he noted that one of the major failings was to enter and effect regime change without a clear strategy for the political and economic aftermath, and no clear exit strategy when the forces invaded.
The move for action in Syria seems to be following the same route, and if anyone believes that a simple incursion to destroy chemical weapons, a quick in and out, is feasible, they are living in wonderland. The complex politics and unrest in that region mean that any incursion will have far reaching effects.
On Iraq, Sir John Coll, as a witness in the Iraq inquiry of 2010, noted that:
"The circumstance that we found ourselves in lent itself to a rather more measured approach, a sensitive approach, a deeper understanding of the cultural aspects, in particular, that we were dealing with, and that was difficult to marry with the requirements that were flowing out of Washington"
He explains how there was often a "fractured relationship" with decisions being made to delay action by a month, then being told that it was happening tomorrow:
"Whereas a more mature decision-making mechanism might have produced a more measured committal of those resources. You have heard the expression "rush to failure", in terms of the Iraqi security forces, and there were a number of occasions -- I mean, you mentioned the occasions in the south -- and there were certainly other occasions where we did exactly that."
That seems to very much sum up the lack of planning behind intervention in Syria, another "rush to failure"
Just war theory has a part to play here. Timothy Demy, in an article "New Wine in Old Wineskins-Twenty-First Century Ethical Challenges for the Just War Tradition", notes that:
"Historically there have been two categories within which the criteria for a just war were Articulated--jus ad bellum ("on the way to war"), in which the criteria determine when resort to war is justifiable or when to go to war, and jus in bello ("in the midst of war"), in which the criteria dictate how war is to be justly conducted. Within the two categories above there are seven principles or criteria for the just war."
But he goes on to say that a third category has arisen which is just as important - to look ahead at the aftermath of a war or military intervention:
"Within the last twenty years there has arisen a third category, jus post bellum ("law or justice after war") in which criteria or principles for post-conflict actions (primarily by the victor) are articulated. As noted above, standard accounts of just-war theory focus on two categories of moral analysis--jus ad bellum and jus in hello considerations. Less attention has been paid to this third and critically important dimension of justice. If part of the moral efficacy of just-war thinking is right intention and a concern for the proper ends, then jus post bellum considerations are ethically mandatory."
This is something taken up by Brian Orend in an article on "War and Justice". He uses the metaphor of radical surgery, which is particularly appropriate given the kind of intervention - limited, and very much a "surgical strike", planned in Syria:
" just war, justly prosecuted, is like radical surgery, then the justified conclusion to such a war can only be akin to the rehabilitation and therapy required after surgery, in order to ensure that the original intent is effectively secured--defeating the threat, protecting the rights--and that the "patient" in this case can only be the entire society of states."
Timothy Demy, commenting on this, noted that " to walk away from any nation in a post-war scenario is to invite anarchy and thus, to contradict the very essence of original just-war principles."
And he concludes:
"To emphasize post-bellutn nation-building is to take seriously the aims of justice and peace that have been declared from the start, before having entered conflict. Nothing less than justice is due a formerly oppressed people in order that they might flourish. From the standpoint of humanitarian intervention, the failure of a victorious nation to provide assistance in post-war reconstruction of another nation calls into question its claim to have waged a just war."
The lack of planning in Syria for outcomes, and the notion that an outcome is achievable without any unexpected and unplanned consequences makes it all the more dangerous. Any intervention without a proper assessment of what might happen afterwards, and how to deal with the fall-out, could only be worse.
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