As an excuse for inaction, ‘War Weariness’ is BS of the first order

The British public have convinced themselves that they are 'war weary' after Iraq and Afghanistan. How 'weary' do you think it all is for people being burned to death by chemical weapons?

by Richard Elliott on 5 September 2013 10:49

A phrase that has entered the lexicon of common political rhetoric of the last few years is ‘war-weariness’. Due to the prolonged necessity for military presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and indeed the problematic and in some cases even futile actions performed to attempt to stabilise both countries, a large portion of the British public have adopted this phrase as suggestive of their own mindsets towards any form of international military action (or reaction).

‘We’ve been at war for nearly 12 years’, they say, ‘and look how far it has got us’. Regardless of one’s own personal support or opposition to either of these conflicts, one can sympathise with the idea that both of these conflicts have been arduous tasks in terms of making any kind of progress; indeed, often, it has been a case of two steps forward, four steps back for the task forces burdened with attempting to quell civil violence in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This ‘war-weariness’ has been wheeled out again and again in recent days, since the internal conflict in Syria has heated up after the suspected use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. The general mood from at least half of the British public is that they do not want to see Britain embroiled in another Middle Eastern conflict, in light of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

‘We’ve been fighting for too long, and it’s time we sat out’. That is a fair précis of what those war-weary ones feel towards the recent developments in Syria.

I contend that, as an excuse, war-weariness is BS of the highest order. There is still no clear route to take to get to the right decision over whether intervention, military action or continued isolationism will be the best option, of course; but the idea that a group of people are ‘tired of war’ is not a sensible or morally justifiable argument against a military reaction in Syria.

Let us not forget that this ‘excuse’ would let us relax while atrocities go on in the world, even if it were internationally recognized, indeed often mandated, that humanitarian intervention would be the best course of action to undertake.

Even were ‘war-weariness’ really a valid argument against getting involved with Syria, would it be in any way applicable to what the government was proposing on Thursday last week in the House of Commons? I would argue no; to disable Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons on his own people (which looks very likely to have already happened) from his Russia-backed comfort zone is not the same thing as a full-blown military intervention.

Anyone who argues this, is wrong. Some may say that there is a ‘slippery slope’ in any kind of military action; ‘well, we’ve bombed that country, we may do it again on a larger scale’, they’ll no doubt say. The slippery slope argument doesn’t hold, as there would need to be another vote in Parliament before there could be a democratic mandate for a full scale military intervention, with ground troops and no-fly zones put in place.

In a serious debate about international issues, an admission of fatigue about military action is not a valid argument to be raised about further military action; it more likely suggests that those making this argument should sit it out, and get some rest to cure them of their weariness.

Whatever side you fall down on over military action in Syria, you can rest assured that if military muscle isn’t used today, it will sure as hell be necessary at a later date. Wake up. Cut that weariness right out; and get used to it. To echo John Kerry’s remarks made late on Friday evening, fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibilities.

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