Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

29 August 2013

With the possibility of a western military intervention in Syria increasing by the day, every foreign affairs expert worth their salt is chiming in with a lesson from history.

I didn’t want to be left out.

The lesson from Iraq (2003 edition) is that intervention is necessary when a tyrant is prepared to use chemical weapons on his own people.

The lesson from Iraq (1991-1998 edition) is that a tyrant prepared to use chemical weapons on his own people can be contained through a series of sanctions and no-fly zones.

The lesson from Iraq (1988 edition) is that if a tyrant uses chemical weapons on his own people we may be prepared to ignore it if he’s also fighting an enemy of ours at the same time.

The lesson from Iraq (1991 edition) is that those brave enough to rise up against a tyrant must be backed to prevent their defeat.

The lesson from Afghanistan (1980s edition) is that arming those brave enough to rise up against a tyrant may come back to haunt us.

The lesson from Iraq (2003 edition) is that ousting a tyrant will persuade other tyrants to give up their biological and chemical weapons.

The lesson from North Korea is that tyrants tend to threaten to use those weapons if they still have them.

The lesson from Pakistan is that we really don’t mind if you have them or not so long as you, sort of, stay on our side.

The lesson from Kosovo is that air strikes will weaken a tyrant, lead to a peace settlement and end up with the tyrant dying in jail.

The lesson from Libya is that air strikes will weaken a tyrant, lead to a revolution and end with a smartphone video of the tyrant slaughtered in the desert.

The lesson from Mali is that ousting a tyrant in a neighbouring country can have consequences elsewhere.

The lesson from the First World War is to be wary of the rush to war.

The lesson from the Second World War is to be wary of making peace with a tyrant.

The lesson from Rwanda is that we cannot stand to one side as 800,000 people are slaughtered.

The lesson from Syria (2011 to 2013) is that we can stand to one side as 100,000 people are slaughtered (so long as it is with conventional bombs and bullets).

Steve Bloomfield is foreign editor for Monocle.

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