Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, of all people, is the first person I have heard of to see the connection between the Falklands episode of 1982, and Mrs Thatcher’s political benefit therefrom, and the subsequent dubious cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, and then Cameron’s cropper over Syria. Just to be clear: I always agreed with the actual military retaliation in the Falklands (I have never been a pacifist), but I objected strongly to the following hoo-hah which revived British optimism on a very shallow basis. The message of the Suez crisis 26 years earlier should have been allowed to stand, and ‘turning the country round’ confined to restricting a (sadly) narrow and backward-looking trade union culture and privatisations with less inflationary share selloffs.
It is not at all clear whether Parliament’s rejection of British military action in Syria will be a gain or a loss, whether to Britain, Syria, or anyone else. Maybe we shall never know. But it is clear that the shadows of Iraq and Afghanistan played a big part in influencing MPs, which in turn means the bill left by the Falklands triumphalism continues to mount. Instinctively, I would love to see a world where vicious dictators can be sent packing, but history tells us that interventions by foreigners are all too often counterproductive. Further, the cultures in these parts of the world can be very alien to modern conceptions of humanity, which is why the suggestion that the chemical attack in Damascus might have been revenge for the rebels’ attack on the Assad convoy and family a month earlier is plausible. So, hopefully, the British will now keep to modest aims in international affairs. At the same time, we must hope that the contemporary social problems accompanying moral confusion which have led some commentators and politicians to set a ludicrous store on patriotism as an antidote will come to be resolved in more sensible ways.