Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Actually, doing nothing IS an option

Here come the latest bunch of Designated Bad Guys. 'Something Must Be Done', say all Serious People.

'Something', in the case of the Middle East, involves bombing the Designated Bad Guys on behalf of a shaky alliance of former Designated Bad Guys and the West's reluctant,* corrupt and brutal regional allies, some of whom helped to create today's Designated Bad Guys in the first place.

So when John Quiggin asks the rhetorical question 'Will today’s allies become, yet again, tomorrow’s enemies?', past experience replies 'quite probably':
A rich and militarily powerful country has taken it upon itself to govern the affairs of millions of people on the other side of the planet, of whom it knows nothing. Its emissaries routinely elevate particular individuals, ethnic groups, religious sects and political parties as favourites, then just as quickly dump them in favour of new friends. Its tools vary randomly from overwhelming force to plaintive exhortation, with no clear or consistent rationale.
Serious People never stop asserting that 'doing nothing is not an option', but maybe it is, given the apparently disastrous results of the somethings that have been tried so far:
The ideal follow-up would be an announcement that, from now on, the people of the Middle East would be left to sort out their problems for themselves.
Maybe we could do with more inaction closer to home, too. The Liberal Democrat Conference was full of people who claim that, by taking the "tough" decision to go into government with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have restrained the worst excesses of their 'borderline immoral' coalition partners and insist that there really are loads of things they definitely won't let the Tories get away with in future, honest.

The obvious counterfactual is 'What if senior Lib Dems had decided not to act all grown up and go into coalition with the Conservatives?' If they'd not done that grown up "something", a minority Conservative administration would have been weaker and the Lib Dems could have had enough real power to stop the 'bordeline immoral' stuff happening in the first place, instead of just bleating about how dreadful their chosen partners are.

The "doing something" option of being the seven stone weakling who chose to marry an 800 pound gorilla, naively expecting not to get pushed around, looks like a disastrous miscalculation for the party and, more importantly, for the country (top-down reorganisation of the NHS, the bedroom tax, trebling of tuition fees, secret courts, merciless scapegoating of the powerless, yada, yada, all underpinned by increasingly bizarre boasts of economic prudence from a coalition united by its shared deficit-cutting fixation, which has seen the underlying national debt more than double on its watch,** while anaemic tax revenues have only just about struggled back to around their pre-crisis levels).

I don't say this because I think that certain things, from intervention in the Middle East to coalition government, should necessarily be ruled out. I'm just noting that a lot of Serious People always seem to be passionately in favour of "doing something", yet intensely relaxed about the well-documented dangers of doing poorly-thought-through "somethings" which often turn out to be worse than doing nothing.


*One pro-intervention article calls the current Designated Bad Guys [Godwin alert] the 'Waffen iSiS.' Granted, they're a vile bunch of people, but if you wanted to accurately run with the default Nazi analogy, I think the parallel would be with one of World War 2's murkier, more controversial and ambiguous episodes, rather than some clear-cut stand-up fight between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. I'm thinking of our reluctant ally, Turkey, with its tanks parked just shy of the fighting, in the role of Stalin, apparently reluctant to aid the Warsaw Uprising and perhaps finding it more convenient to let the Nazis do the dirty work of killing off the leaders of a nation/ethnic group which might be minded to oppose him.

**Not necessarily an insurmountable problem, depending on what you propose to do about it, but for a Conservative-led coalition that's routinely conflating 'deficit' with 'debt' so that they can claim to be 'paying down Britain's debts', it means they've utterly failed in their own terms.