Even as war continues to ravage Iraq, even as Libya remains split asunder by bitter civil conflict, the West’s so-called humanitarian interventionists are eyeing up yet another nation to ‘fix’, another country to save, another people to rescue from horror by plunging them into even greater horror.
This time it’s Syria. It’s now the Syrian people who have the misfortune – and what misfortune it is – to find themselves the objects of Western interventionists’ pity. Following Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airbase, there’s a lot of talk of toppling Assad and delivering Syria into a new era of freedom and democracy. That such moral interventionism not only didn’t work in Iraq and Libya but in fact made those nations measurably, horrifically more worse off than they were is not even considered. It’s immaterial. This is one of the greatest, and deadliest, curiosities of the 21st century: the inability of the new interventionists to learn from their errors.
Trump’s bombing of an airbase following Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in Khan Sheikhoun has had an extraordinary impact on both Western politics and international affairs. In the West, it has had precisely the effect the Trump administration was transparently hoping for: it has boosted Trump’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Washington establishment and media. Fareed Zakaria, global analyst and moral conscience, or at least platitude producer, of DC’s liberal set, said ‘Trump became president of the United States’ with his bombing of Syria. Former Obama officials said Trump was ‘right’. A leftish TV presenter said the attack was ‘beautiful’. Even the New York Times, at war with Trump for months, praised Trump for using his ‘heart’. In the words of the Nation, these observers really ought to ‘sober up and stop being besotted by “beautiful” missiles’.
On the global stage, the attack had the impact that anyone who thinks with their brain instead of their heart could easily have predicted: it shook the world order. It put the US on a war footing with Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran. Within hours, international relations had deteriorated. The spectre of the Cold War – of that never-ending stand-off between a good West and a foul East, with all the regional tensions and conflict this stand-off always stirs up – loomed large once again.
Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, did the TV rounds, ominously warning Russia and Iran that ‘nothing is off the table’ in America’s dealings with them, including tougher sanctions – and maybe more. Russia and Iran said they will ‘respond to any aggression’ by America in Syria. Perversely, some Western observers seem to welcome this return of the zombie Cold War, of threats and tension and conflict between some of the most powerful nations on Earth. This is because they are desperate for a familiar political framework through which to make sense of the world and their moral place within it. So what if the resuscitation of the Cold War causes instability, and more war, so long as it lets us feel that we’re on the side of Good again; that it’s the 1950s once more and everything feels recognisable and logical and ordered.