Margaret Thatcher had The Falklands, for Tony Blair it was Iraq, and for the second time in two years David Cameron eyes Syria as his chance to look statesmanlike.
After having their aspirations to join the fray dashed by a surprisingly sensible Parliamentary decision in 2013 , Cameron and much of his cabinet have been circling the playground like a group of petulant school bullies, kicking their heels in frustration at not being allowed to join in the games with the bigger boys. Now they see their chance again and they're gagging for it.
The previous excuse to bomb Syria was supposedly to help the plucky insurgents defeat the evil overlord Assad. Now it seems we have to attack different set of bad guys in order to keep that same despot from losing control of his country. It's hard to keep up with who we play nice with in the middle east these days isn't it?
After the Paris attacks, even previously doveish Labour MPs are now eager to shove our collective gonads into the ISIS wasps nest, although repeated attacks in other less celebrated countries apparently didn't warrant their personal intervention. The added impetus now seems to be an opportunity to stick it to their new leader in a competition to see who can out-nasty the nasty party.
Part of the confused rationale for bombing is that UK involvement in these raids will make us safer. The idea seems to be that we'll teach ISIS a lesson about attacking western cities. Even if that lesson ends up being that air raids won't make any difference to their capability to strike us, and will probably give them much more scope and motivation to do so.
Let's remember that it only takes a handful of committed zealots to do the damage we've seen wreaked in so many countries to date. ISIS don't need squadrons of sophisticated planes to take the fight to us. All it takes is a few Kalashnikovs, some suicide vests and the fanatical radicalisation that seeing your friends and family being blown apart tends to inspire.
Trying to wipe out ISIS from the air is like setting fire to your underwear to cure an infestation of pubic lice. It might work, but the end result is probably going to be unpredictable and painful, and you'll likely lose much of what you were trying to protect in the first place.
Even though we're constantly shown evidence to the contrary, those supporting air strikes believe that our ordinance is so smart that when it rips into densely populated areas - just like those many of us live in with our own families - it can selectively shred the flesh and bone of the bad guys whilst leaving civilians completely unharmed.
The argument usually goes that collateral casualties are sad but unavoidable. In essence saying that it's better for their civilians to be killed than ours. I'd imagine that's a pretty close approximation to how ISIS rationalised murdering hundreds of innocents in Paris and Beirut a few weeks ago.
Those who advocate the wholesale bombing of cities like Raqqa are either unaware of the situation there or simply don't care. But we have to care. If not on humanitarian grounds, at least for reasons of self preservation. Every time we inadvertently blow the face off a child or accidentally hit a wrong target, we give more fuel to the jihadist fire around the world.
I know this is a well worn debate, but let's look at the reality. We've been bombing ISIS in Iraq for months. We also helped wipe out their forebears - Al-Qaeda- in Afghanistan a few years ago. Although when I say 'wiped out' I do of course mean we watched them run off and hide, before morphing into another gang of violent radical nut-jobs ready to return as soon as we'd finished patting ourselves on the back for finishing whatever job it was we went there to do.
If levelling much of a whole country didn't prevent a slew of terrorist attacks, air strikes are self-evidently a busted flush. They remain as little more than a PR exercise for politicians who want to talk tough and be seen to be doing something on the world stage.
I'll concede that it may come to a point where we have to fight ISIS eventually, but we need to have an overall strategy in place first. You know, like we didn't have the last couple of times we intervened in the middle east.
Even with unmanned drones being flown by banks of video games enthusiasts, seemingly disconnected from the reality that the pixels they are 'bug-splatting' on the screen are real people, fighting a war by remote control is still a science fiction wet dream. In the long term we have to be prepared to commit to a full-on offensive and to putting our own boys and girls in harm's way.
François Hollande said the Paris attacks were a declaration of war. They weren't. ISIS is not a state and it's not a country, as such there can be no 'war' in the strictest sense. You'd think a head of state would know that. You can't be at war with a group who's only credibility is believing it's own press releases. Right now ISIS is a bunch of over-inflated egos looking for a fight, and calling this a war may just be validating their own claims to statehood.
That said, I sometimes wonder if we've been fighting Word War 3 in instalments for years without anyone noticing. There's a line from a song by Matt Johnson that asks "should I cry like a baby or die like a man, while all the planet's little wars start joining hands?" That's a phrase that returns to me again and again as I see conflict after conflict stirred and sparked by the kind of naivety and complacency being promulgated by David Cameron and his cohorts right now.
France has closed it's borders and virtually introduced marshal law with a three month state of emergency. Belgium has been on general lock-down, and in the UK we're about to see thousands of troops mobilised to support our depleted police forces. Meanwhile Russian planes are being shot down and our austerity evangelising Chancellor manages to find a spare £2bn to divert towards re-equipping an air force his own cuts decimated a few years ago. Even the Daily Mail are reprising Nazi propaganda cartoons depicting refugees as rats.
There are plenty of 'little wars' on our planet right now, many of them fuelled by an arms industry whose shares recently took a massive up-tick on the news of even more to come. If they aren't holding hands yet, they're certainly playing footsie under the dinner table.
If we carry on repeating the same mistakes, what hope is there for any of us to see an end to this madness? If the only thing our leaders can think of doing is to play games of deadly tokenism from 30,000 feet, shouldn't we be questioning their competency, instead of applauding their lack of vision?
Do we really want to be dragged into another global conflict by the enervated fancies of a tawdry death cult with dreams of world domination, or to the beat of a war drum being thumped by politicians who have never learned a better tune?
Another great quotation about war comes from the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, who said "The supreme art of war is to subdue your enemy without fighting".
Helping to secure the Turkish border would be a far more effective means of controlling the situation in Syria, as would cutting off the supply of arms to the middle east and reducing the ability of insurgents to sell stolen oil on the black market. These actions may not be as newsworthy as footage from the nose cone of a laser guided bomb, but they would be far more accurate and just as devastating to groups like ISIS.
Joining in with a campaign of indiscriminate slaughter from the air is not the way to defeat warped ideologies. But showing moderation in the face of such malevolence and starving them of inspiration and investment for their murderous endeavours might just break the cycle of violence they're seeking to impose on all of us.
If we're going to avoid a world vision dictated by groups like ISIS we have to see the dealing of death as a last resort, rather than as the easy political expediency it seems to have become.Suggest a correction