Returning to this blog after a very long time away, for which there is no particular reason other than I lost the urge to document these short snippets of my life, I’m writing on the day after the UK government’s Cabinet voted to support strikes on targets in Syria. I’ve been conflicted about this for a while. On the one hand, no matter how extensive the strikes are, it seems very unlikely to me that they will result in peace in Syria. So, why bother? There is also the recent history of the UK in these matters, and the mythical weapons of mass destruction still figure strongly in many people’s minds here. But I’ve come to the conclusion that there is one, and perhaps only one, good reason for taking the action that is likely proposed, and that is because there are some acts by states that are so heinous that they demand more than a conversational, diplomatic, response. And that’s not because taking action will prevent something happening: Prime Minister Theresa May has, apparently, argued that if we do not act now then there may be other chemical weapons attacks by Syrian forces. No, it’s because if we do not take action in retaliation we are effectively sending a message that chemical weapons attacks are acceptable, or at least not sufficiently unacceptable to lead to action in response. In a way my position is a counsel of despair. We cannot do anything that will bring to an end the terrible violence in Syria, but we can at least make it clear that there are some red lines that cannot be crossed without inviting retaliation. I don’t pretend this is a sophisticated point of view, nor is it one that any civilised nation should be adopt easily. But sometimes, and this is one of those occasions in my view, there is no alternative.
[A]t the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue1.
YMMV of course.