In his latest dispatch from Aleppo, in which he documents some of the horrors of the conflict in Syria, we find these three paragraphs, one directly following the other.
The first two:
‘Let us not pretend: our non-involvement was also a positive choice. From the beginning of the war, anti-war activists, newspaper columnists and backbenchers alike demanded we stay out of the Middle East, just this once. This was not our fight – despite the West’s deep colonial involvement in organising this corrupt, dictatorial and sectarian state. Then, miraculously, our governments listened, rejecting no-fly zones, humanitarian corridors, or arms supplies to try to strengthen moderates – and moderates there once were – against the regime’s thugs and the jihadists’ crazies.
Maybe they were right to do so, though I note that there are no brickbats cast at those who said then: “We will only make things worse.” How much worse could they now be?”.
This sentence – ‘Let us not pretend: our non-involvement was also a positive choice’ – is somewhat ambiguous. Is he saying that we shouldn’t pretend our ‘non-involvement’ was a positive choice, or saying that we shouldn’t pretend our ‘non-involvement’ wasn’t a positive choice?
From the context, I would say the strong suggestion appears to be that ‘our’ non-involvement in Syria is something to be lamented; that maybe ‘we’ could have stopped things getting worse there; and that those who argued against military intervention in Syria are perhaps deserving of ‘brickbats’.
Spencer then writes:
‘President Obama’s America, meanwhile, has decided to comply with the world’s request that it cease to be its policeman. Physician, heal thyself, the Middle East said after Iraq, and Mr Obama has decided to take it literally, focusing his energies on health care reform rather than leading the world. Now the world has no policeman, with predictable consequences. Not that America will tolerate an Assad victory either, of course: the arms supplies fed in through proxies will be just enough to keep the war going indefinitely’.
Here, he seems to be lamenting that the U.S. has decided to stop being the ‘world’s Policeman’ – although in reality, that is nonsense, given the number of countries the U.S. is still occupying, bombing and subverting. And if we are to compare the U.S. to a Policeman, then it is a murderous, corrupt, selfish and calculating Policeman, perhaps with a degree of superficial charm. A sociopathic Policeman, you might say.
Anyway, he also seems to be suggesting that the events we are seeing unfold in Syria now are the ‘predictable consequences’ of the U.S. deciding to stop being the ‘world’s Policeman’. If only they’d taken it upon themselves to turn up in Syria and feel a few collars, then things would’ve been better.
But strangely, he then concedes in the last sentence of the 3rd paragraph that ‘of course’, the U.S. are providing ‘arms supplies fed in through proxies’ to Syrian rebels, and that these supplies are helping to ‘keep the war going indefinitely’.
Or to put it another way, the U.S. *is* actually militarily intervening in Syria, and such intervention is helping to prolong the war, and so by extension the killing, injury, displacement and misery that so pertubes him.
So on my reading, Spencer’s general conclusions appear to be:
1. The U.S./the ‘world’s Policeman’ has refused to get involved in Syria, and that non-involvement has seen the situation deteriorate.
2. The U.S. is involved in Syria, and their involvement is helping to prolong the conflict (which by extension, has seen the situation deteriorate).
And I wonder if such contradictory conclusions are what happens when deeply ingrained ideological beliefs (1) come into conflict with documented fact (2).
You somehow have to end up believing that both conclusions are true.