The independent leads today with harrowing photographs of a small boy, maybe two years old, face-down in the surf having drowned. You will see this image shared on social media, along with impassioned pleas to “do something”, as if opening Europe’s borders to the 10m Syrians who are currently displaced is a viable option.
You will hear it said that this is all because of the 2003 war in Iraq. Perhaps that is a part of it. But perhaps a premature withdrawal before Iraq was able to look after its own security is more to blame. But actually this is a small part of the problem. People are fleeing Syria, where the west didn’t intervene to topple a poison-gas using dictator (Assad, gassed people around Damascus in 2013) to one where we did (Saddam Hussein gassed Kurds in Halabja in 1988).
The origins of the Civil war in Syria are not due to the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, but more down to the self-immolation of a market trader called Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010, an event credited with starting the “Arab spring” whereby the populations of several countries, including Syria rose up in an attempt to overthrow their dictatorial leaders. As ever, economics played a part. The rising oil price back then made fuel subsidies unaffordable to non-oil exporting leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Syria’s Bashar Al Assad. Removing the fuel subsidies created an environment where the previously content middle classes of Damascus and Cairo decided to throw their lot in with the usual malcontents, the Muslim Brotherhoods and less savory organisations who saw their chance.
But you will see the lazy assertion that the Syrian civil war is “our fault” because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And certainly the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi later became ISIS/ISIL/IS under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was facilitated by the lawlessness of post-US withdrawal Iraq and the incompetence of the Governments.
But ultimately, this is the long-running sore sectarian sore of the middle-east, that various dictators have sat upon, with varying degrees of success, with or without help from outside powers, since the 9th century.
The problem, those showing the photo of the dead child on the beach would have you believe, is that “we” caused the problem. “We” did not. The problem isn’t that Europe is too “callous”, and that the problem would go away if everyone was as achingly moral as they were. There are 10m people displaced around Syria’s borders. The brunt is Borne by Turkey Lebanon and Jordan. Iraq too is taking its share. It’s just in the UNHCR camps, well run, by the way, there’s no work. It’s a boring, depressing, but safe existence. There is food and water, from which shit is separated. It is quite understandable that people seek a better life in Europe.
Europe is spending billions, helping people in the camps. That people want to come is understandable. But the idea we’re doing nothing to help them, or have an obligation to let them in, is more about the virtue-signalling of the person saying it, that the real moral position. Worse than the vacuous moral posturing, is the complete lack of agency you give to the people in this situation. Millions are waiting patiently in the camps, or in Beirut or Amman to return to their homes should peace return to Syria. Yet some decide to put their children in the hands of people smugglers and unseaworthy vessels and unventilated trucks. These people bear the responsibility for the dead children far more than the “Cameron” whom countless memes exhort to “do more”.
The very people most likely to share these self-aggrandising, shroud-waving memes on social media, are the same ones who’re ostentatiously anti-war. Perhaps if any politician in the west is responsible for the success of ISIS it’s Ed Miliband who successfully vetoed international military action in 2013, wholly for domestic political concerns in order to wrong-foot the Prime Minister. Perhaps if we’d started supporting reasonable groups in the Anti-Assad forces in 2013 (or earlier, my view it was already by then 18 months too late), IS may not have got such a foothold. Or maybe not. We will never know.
Not “our” fault, those dead kids. We do have an obligation to help Syrians and we are doing so through UNHCR, but that’s not the same as playing host to the entire population. The solution in Syria is military. If you want to blame a British politician, blame Ed Miliband. An American one? Barack Obama who brought the Troops home from Iraq prematurely, before Iraq could look after its own security. But ultimately blaming politicians in the west for the complete failure of the middle east is futile.
http://bracken.uk.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/logo-2.png00Malcolm Brackenhttp://bracken.uk.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/logo-2.pngMalcolm Bracken2015-09-02 15:39:002017-07-21 01:43:03Dead Children in the Mediterranean