Syria; Not Our Sandpit

Keep Calm..............

Syria has long been a rogue state with no love lost between us and them. It was a location for Provisional IRA training camps and a source of weapons for PIRA and indeed other terrorist organisations. Nonetheless, the logic for British involvement is flaky at best. David Cameron and William Hague cannot grandstand and assume moral ascendancy when we lack the resource to back it up. We don’t have the resource mostly because Cameron’s government followed a well established pattern over the past 22 years of squeezing Defence in favour of other departments. Currently, the UK has amongst its local assets Cyprus, but with no aircraft on it and the HMS Illustrious group.... with no aircraft. Interesting that the most vocal opponents of involvement in a barely understood conflict are current  and former people from the military and intelligence community. The most pro is apparently the Prime Minister’s wife.

That much of the current instability can be traced back to our previous interventions seems lost on our leaders. Those interventions, achieved very little indeed, especially Iraq. It’s also popular to make comparisons with Kosovo which is extremely misleading, given the huge difference in size of the countries and the ferocity of the current civil war in Syria as opposed to the low intensity conflict in the Balkans.

 

aving avoided involvement so far neither the US or the UK really want to become embroiled in an inter Arab 50 year religious civil war. Based on outrage from the most recent atrocities, (although gas has been in use in limited quantities since March), the “something must be done,” calls don’t take us anywhere beyond lobbing some cruise missiles through the ether to “teach them a lesson,” in some fantasy aspiration that only bad guys will die, (including no doubt a bunch of Russian advisors which could be awkward), and the rest will just give up. Given we haven’t even confirmed the “who,” bit never mind the “what then,” part none of this is credible. Certainly, one question that enquiring minds ought to be asking is “who had most to gain,” by murdering innocents by the foulest of means?” Assad? Really, when he was winning the civil war?

The US of course has plenty of war toys in theatre with another 2 carrier groups on route

Attacks on air defences, military installations, command and control centres and chemical storage and production plants from the air don’t in themselves remove bad regimes. That requires men on the ground. There is no appetite for that either here or in the US, (and with an Army falling to 80,000 we couldn’t do it anyway), both populations being tired of constant war for 20 years. Moreover, the scale of munitions required to destroy and suppress such assets is of a much higher magnitude than was used in Libya. Of passing note of course is that hits on chemical sites are likely to release said chemicals into the atmosphere which would create the collateral damage nightmare of all nightmares. Meanwhile, the largest supporters of the rebels, the Saudi’s, will, along with their allies, be nowhere to be seen. The British Army are not mercenaries to be used to further the geopolitical aims of a bunch of rich sheiks in a country that we don’t know, don’t much care about and have no immediate national interest which actually lies in supporting regional allies, not doing their job for them.

An assumption that we can be involved in an attack on a foreign country with no fear of retaliation is just plain stupid. Syria has always had a sophisticated security network and, potentially with the help of Iran, retaliatory action must be expected, both on the mainland UK and abroad against UK and US assets and individuals. Indeed, rumours to the effect that Hezbollah will begin taking hostages are already circulating in Beirut.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on August 19-23rd found that only 9% of Americans support US military intervention in Syria, while 90% of British people polled opposed any intervention in Syria. While a re-elected second term US president can afford to ignore public opinion, this is not true of a British prime minister, particularly if a single western weapon goes astray.

Those most opposed to intervention then, could God forbid, end up being casualties of war....... in any of our towns or villages. Do not underestimate the violence which these people are easily capable of perpetrating. A senior figure in the Intelligence community told me three years ago that it was only a matter of time before a European city suffered a significant attack from a rogue state or terrorist group using WMD. He then, was counting the years on the fingers of one hand.

Markets, who are smarter than politicians, have figured all this out and its the uncertain path forward and unknown outcome in the Middle East which is increasing volatility across asset classes. European stress points appearing, Asian contagion and budget issues in the US don’t help an already difficult situation. That any action would likely be propped up by more QE is though, slightly irrelevant at this point. Historically, we do tend to sell off prior to conflict and then rally hard during and in its aftermath but that previously was based on quick and decisive victories. This will be anything but.

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