Are you ready for a Middle East war? Should be fun, don’t you think, the first war in history to be started via social media with exchanges of playground insults.
Yesterday, President Trump warned Russia to ‘get ready’ for an American missile attack in Syria, implying that it might be imminent.
Mr. Putin responded with, “bring it on, baby”, or words to that effect.
This morning, Trump tweets to remind Mr. Putin that he didn’t say exactly when such an attack would take place.
Expect Mr. Putin to scoff later today with some remark about Americans being ‘scaredy cats’.
Meanwhile, in the supposedly sensible parts of Europe, the leaders of France and Britain – the two countries that contributed much to the state of chaos in the Middle East in the first place – are said to be preparing their parliaments, or their electorates, for a supporting role in the American action, perhaps to include lobbing a few missiles of their own. I can’t say what motivates M. Macron, but Mrs. May owes both him and Trump a favour for expelling Russian diplomats following the Salisbury poison attack on a former Russian spy.
All this comes about because the Assad regime allegedly attacked a rebel-held town with a poison chemical or gas. I for one have no problem believing that Assad is guilty of the act, and for all I know with Russian connivance. So far, however, ‘allegedly’ it must be because no one has provided proof of either. Yes, some doctors and nurses in Douma testified on television that they had treated victims of such an attack, but that does not qualify them to say who the perpetrators were. Assad is vile enough to do it, but then so are some of the nasty people on the other side of the dispute. In Syria, as elsewhere in the region, no political or religious faction can be trusted.
I failed to struggle with the belief that some arm of the Russian state was behind the Salisbury incident, without having seen any proof of it, and Britain and other countries were perfectly within their rights to protest by expelling diplomats. But it is one thing to expel a few diplomats and quite another to start lobbing missiles – and at who or what?
The Russians may well be up to mischief in Syria. They have made no bones about their support for Assad, and have a significant military presence in the country to prove it. But who says the United States and Britain are up to any good in the region either?
Any western interference there, in Syria as in other places, has been demonstrably unhelpful in recent times. Iraq is in a bigger mess than ever it was under Saddam Hussein. Libya has descended into chaos and tribal warfare. Egypt is now run by a military dictatorship. Turkey, a once secular state, has become a theocracy.
Thank you Messrs Bush and Blair.
Thank you Mr. Sykes and M. Picot.
Thank you …. Well, you get the point.
When will we learn that nothing we ill-informed western countries do in the Middle East will ever bring about either peace or order? We may have helped to depose a few hateful dictators, but these have been replaced with equally or even more hateful gangs of thugs, about some of which the West knows nothing but in some cases is prepared to back for some local purpose that only a few mandarins understand. Who these gangsters are, and what they want, are mysteries to all of, including our so called ‘experts’ – the talking heads on television – who sound as if they are making sense but might, for all of most of us can tell, be talking gibberish.
I can’t pretend to know how to unravel the political mysteries of the Arab world, or resolve its conflicts. The Arabs themselves don’t know, and even if they claim to, it is only on the basis of promoting their particular national or tribal religious interests. Most of these seem irreconcilable. You can’t put all these rival groups round a table, even a round one. Doing so would produce a scene like the one in Lawrence of Arabia.
The Arabs, in short, are still addicted, as they always have been, to tribal conflicts and civil wars. And over all these disputes is one overarching tribal and civil war in which the combatants are defined respectively by the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam.
Who in the West understand all this in sufficient detail to talk sense, and with no preconceived notions of their own?
Not Trump, or Macron, or May. Not even Putin, perhaps, but then he is always the cat that walks by itself.
I’m glad Trump has paused for breath. Perhaps he has taken some good advice, for a change (although a team of advisors that is headed by John Bolton does not fill me with confidence that the advice will be sensible).
Assad may be a war criminal, Putin is probably a psychopath, Syria is undoubtedly a mess, but what can anyone else add to this rancid brew that will create a delightful new cocktail?
Nothing now, would be my answer – and perhaps nothing ever.