It’s a bit late, but some thoughts on Syria and so on …
When Tony Blair was leading us into Iraq, I felt for a fellow baby-boomer.
I was born in 1950 and he in 1953. Our parents, our grandparents, our teachers, our aunts and uncles, had all been through at least one world war. Their reminiscences were still full of it and so were our books, our comics, our cinemas and our games.
We grew up knowing what would be expected of us if we were ever called on. But we grew middle-aged and grey without being. Hell, we even escaped National Service.
Then, suddenly, after 9/11, it was our turn – if not to fight, then to keep our nerve while fighting was required. I thought we had to go into Afghanistan. I was less sure about Iraq, but if it was necessary, I did not want Britain to be found wanting. And I admired Blair for steamrollering the opposition.
Most of us had no idea what was happening in the Middle East and how it might affect us. We wanted our leaders to make the decisions on what had to be done. And if they were wrong, well, that’s life. You are never going to get a democratic vote in favour of a war and dictators will move quickly and ruthlessly while you try. They have to know that sometimes they might provoke a response which is not entirely careful and logical and fair?
As far as I can see, we made a mess of both Afghanistan and Iraq, without gaining much. Some of you are entitled to say you told us so. Even so, when it was David Cameron’s turn to tell us there was no alternative, I was on his side – although, as it happens, the eventual outcome made more sense to me.
The popular take on what is happening in the Middle East is confused and confusing. We should surely be glad that, in Egypt, a coalition of common sense has risen up against the beardies. I recall an interview with a former lorry driver in Mali, who had his hand sawn off with a kitchen knife by Islamists who suspected him of being on the wrong side there. When the French went in, he told a reporter: “I hope they dig a big hole and bury those bastards alive in it.” I understood that, at least. And starting with that little bit of empathy, I wondered why we were all so sure, from the start, that we were on the side of the Syrian rebels against Assad.
One of the problems with media influence is that reporters are always inclined to side with rebels. They have dash and underdog romance and they talk freely and with passion, while establishments are fat and corrupt and talk bureaucratese. Even so, it seems clear that it is not beyond imagining that elements in the anti-Assad alliance might have staged a chemical attack on their own allies. And even if they did not, how were we going to bomb the regime while remaining neutral about the outcome of the fight?
All these doubts, mixed up with a simpler popular rebellion against any more Blairism in international affairs, were understandably reflected in the opinion poll, and I was in the majority which was not sorry to see them prevail. But I disliked Ed Miliband for suddenly becoming our champion. I don’t think he knew what the best strategy was for defending British and Syrian interests. He only knew what was the best strategy for throwing a spanner in the works.
In short, I was all for Blair but now think his decisions were disastrous. I was all for Cameron’s right to make a mistake of similar magnitude. And I thought Miliband got the right result for the wrong reasons. I can see this is not very helpful to anybody.