Did World War Three begin last Thursday night? I fear it may have done. Forgive my language, but on this occasion I think it justified. How can anyone possibly have been so bloody stupid?
We know from history that assassinations can have limitless effects. And when the President of the United States orders the state murder (for this, alas, is what it was) of an Iranian general, it is hard to see a good end.
When the President of the US ordered the killing of Qasem Soleimani (pictured, during an anti-US rally to protest his killing on January 4), it is hard to see a good end. History shows that assassinations can have limitless effects
There will be retaliation. Other countries will be drawn in. Our own ability to make moral objections to such acts is gravely weakened because Donald Trump’s action lies miles outside the laws of civilised war. Iran has no long-range drones (as far as we know), but can you begin to imagine the justified rage in the USA if a senior American general were shot dead on the steps of the Pentagon by an Iranian hit team? Yet what, in the end, would be the moral difference between the two acts? Now we can only tremble at what might come next.
People protest the US military involvement in the Middle East, in Times Square, New York, on January 4
Any fool can see that this action was perilous beyond belief. Anyone wise and mature enough to say ‘That’s enough!’ after the first retaliation would have had the sense not to start this in the first place.
For the first 40 years of my life we were supposed to be living on the brink of nuclear war. But it never came, because even the stupidest and most evil politicians could see that you could not win such a war. Now the nuclear threat has slipped away into the background. I am not saying it will not return. But a US President can now start a war, if he picks his enemy carefully, without needing to fear a nuclear exchange.
We have seen this already in Iraq, a continuing disaster, and in Afghanistan, where, as newly released secret papers show, nobody ever had a clue what they were doing. We see it in Ukraine, where American and EU aggression finally came up against hard resistance. We see it in Syria. Britain and France started their own war in Libya, so destroying that country and beginning one of the biggest waves of uncontrolled migration in human history, and unqualified disaster.
Pictures from Syria after the war we caused show a country that has truly been bombed and shelled back into the Stone Age
How odd it is that we persist with these follies.
Modern non-nuclear weapons are quite terrifying enough in themselves. I visited Baghdad soon after the 2003 invasion and was repeatedly astonished by the vast destruction caused by the power and accuracy of 21st Century conventional munitions. Ramadi and Fallujah later ended up as moonscapes. Pictures from Syria after the war we caused show a country that has truly been bombed and shelled back into the Stone Age.
A man pushes a bicycle while walking past burning cars in the aftermath of a car bomb explosion at the industrial zone in the northern Syrian town of Tal Abyad on November 23
And now we have drones, which turn murder into a video game. You can sit in front of a screen and arrange the killing of another human being, at no direct risk to yourself, thousands of miles away. Then you can lock up your office and go out for a beer or, if you don’t like beer, you can have a cheeseburger.
But above all, what is all this about? It does not defend us, but exposes us to danger that may reach our towns and cities.
At least in the past we could say we were defending liberty against a defined menace that would not stop threatening us until it was defeated in the field. But in these cases, what precisely are we fighting for? How will we know if we have won? Or are we heading for the permanent war envisaged in George Orwell’s 1984, in which we can switch from one enemy to the other in the blink of an eye, and pretend nothing has changed, but the fighting never stops?
You think this far-fetched? Then bear in mind that this country has been supporting an Al Qaeda faction in Syria for several years. These are crazy times.