‘When you’ve shouted Rule Britannia, when you’ve sung God Save the Queen, when you’ve finished killing Kruger with your mouth…’ So wrote Kipling derisively of the domestic cheerleaders of the Boer War. The lines came to mind this week as the Commons again strained at the leash of war. Horrified by the Aleppo atrocities, MPs dug deep into the jaded rhetoric of a superannuated great power.
They vied for abuse to hurl at the Syrian and Russian forces laying siege to the wretched city. There were the obligatory parallels with Hitler. The Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, spoke of ‘events that match the behaviour of the Nazi regime in Guernica’. He wanted a no fly zone and a safe haven. Others wanted ‘action not words’. It was unthinkable to ‘stand idly by’. To a modern MP, something must always ‘be done’, even something stupid like shooting down Russian planes.
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, replied that he hoped to ‘persuade both sides to have a ceasefire, and work towards a solution’. This bliss would be achieved by ‘demonstrations outside the Russian embassy’. Putin must have roared with laughter.
Not a week passes without some new horror emanating from the vortex of the Middle East. So called ‘wars among the peoples’ are, like all civil wars, distinctively terrible. Cities deaden the impact of an infantry advance. Reckless bombing takes over and accidents happen. Saudi Arabia bombs a funeral party in Sanaa. Russia bombs an aid convoy and a hospital in Aleppo. Western planes bomb friendly troops outside Mosul. There is no appetite for British troops on the ground. All talk is of bombing, intervention lite.
Britain has already contributed enough to Syria’s hell. It helped America create a power vacuum in neighbouring Iraq where Isis could form and flourish.