The debate over intervening in Syria has dominated the headlines this last week, and with a depressing tone. The intolerable smugness, and snideness of the anti-intervention lobby, in the face of a tyrannical regime using chemical weapons on its own people, has been almost as infuriating as the turgid and pathetic arguments tendered against intervening in Syria, which have ranged from Edwin Starr songs, to illogical ramblings, such as those of the ever-competent Mehdi Hasan on this website. These arguments intrinsically carry a sort of pathetic hopelessness that isn't realistic or helpful.
Hasan's argument, that Britain and the United States occupy very little 'moral high ground', adds about as much to the debate as George Galloway's absurd claims that Israel launched the chemical attacks in Syria. There is then the chorus from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. Jenkins insists that it is 'much braver' for the world to sit back and do nothing in the face of appalling violence. Also an urgency to help the Syrian people, being slaughtered in droves, being literally firebombed in schools, is mere egoism.
The anti-intervention left and right have totally given up on the idea of the most powerful countries in the world being able to have any positive effect upon the world at large. In addition the anti-war movement claims to be on the side of peace, as if we occupy a world created by Disney, where the world is a simple choice between peace and war. Where the 'brave' and the 'moral' choices are what we must follow. Unfortunately, this is what the 'brave', 'moral' and 'peaceful' choice looks like in the real world.
A belief that the most powerful and wealthiest countries in the world can do nothing to stop this violence is delusional. Countries like Britain and America do have the ability to curb this violence. This is not a ridiculous suggestion that intervention could bring about a glittering peace, a democratic utopia, but they do have the capability to stop the worst excesses of violence and bring some degree of stability to a country that has been in a destructive state of civil war for over 2 years.
Detractors may look at past interventions, but they do so with cynical spectacles. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not pretty, but they were not totally worthless, as some strident non-interventionists would have you believe. Most of their failures can be ascribed to poor planning, not the principles upon which they were based. The interventions in the former Yugoslavia were very successful, and their failures were that they were too limited in scope. The moves by the US and UK into the Libyan civil war almost certainly shortened the conflict and lessened the death toll. The intervention in Sierra Leone, short and sharp, is seldom mentioned, perhaps because it was so successful.
Intervention is not something to be considered lightly, nor is it some perfect paragon of virtue. But it is totally naïve to make the assumption that not sending soldiers somewhere is the de facto 'moral' position. When there is a very clear and understandable way in which the presence of an advanced military force can make a difference, it is not an option to be ideologically scoffed at. When the advanced weapons that industrialised nations possess can be used to rid the world of awful regimes committing genocide, the notion of achieving a noble end should not be scoffed at with childish moralism.