As the West considers action against the ruling Assad regime in Syria, we must take note of a chilling warning from 1914

By  Peter McKay

PUBLISHED: 17:12 EST, 25  August 2013 |  UPDATED: 17:12 EST, 25 August 2013

 

As the centenary of the 1914-1918 Great War  approaches, historian Christopher Clark points out that conflict’s eerie, modern  relevance.

‘The assassination of Archduke Franz  Ferdinand began with a cavalcade of automobiles and a squad of suicide bombers:  the young men who gathered in Sarajevo with bombs on 28 June 1914 had been told  by their handlers to take their own lives after carrying out their mission, and  received phials of potassium cyanide to do it with,’ he says in a London Review  of Books essay.

‘Behind the outrage at Sarajevo was an  avowedly terrorist organisation with a cult of sacrifice, death and  revenge:  extra- territorial, secretive, scattered in cells across  political borders, its  links to any sovereign government were oblique.’

Sound familiar?

Al Qaeda stokes the ire of Muslims angry at  what they see as the defilement of their lands by the oil-seeking, infidel  West.

Our retaliation for its September 2001 attack  on America with hijacked passenger jets, killing more than 3,000, was to invade  Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, costing more than 100,000 Islamic lives  on top of our own sad audit of dead and maimed.

But 9/11, as Americans call it, did not  trigger the Third World War. On the contrary, for a brief moment — before the  retaliation began — Americans enjoyed the sympathy of most of the  world.

Now, it’s different. America, urged by  its  European allies, considers action against the ruling Assad regime in Syria,  which stands accused of using poison gas to kill hundreds of its people.

The West is drawing up a list of targets for  Cruise missile strikes aimed at crippling the Assad regime.

How will Syria’s main allies, Russia and  Iran, respond? Putin’s spokesmen deplore the poison gas attack, but suggest it  might have been the work of the Syrian rebels, which include Al Qaeda elements.  They point out that Assad’s military is winning and doesn’t need to resort to  using illegal weapons, and suggest that only the rebels stood to gain from the  international anger aroused by such an attack.

America, urged by its European allies, is considering action against the ruling Assad regime in Syria, which stands accused of using poison gas to kill hundreds of its people 

America, urged by its European allies, is considering  action against the ruling Assad regime in Syria, which stands accused of using  poison gas to kill hundreds of its people

But our own Foreign Secretary, William Hague,  says Assad was responsible and must be removed.

Hague’s bad cop hawkishness allows his  patron, good cop President Obama, to remain measured.

President Obama ‘looks at all the options’.  We’re told he spent 40 minutes discussing them with David Cameron (a fact made  public to flatter the latter?).

But he earlier told CNN that Americans  expected him to think about ‘our long-term national interests’, adding:  ‘Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping  into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in difficult situations,  can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly  interventions that breed more resentment.’

Would Obama’s cautious approach survive  another poison gas attack in Syria, or something even worse?

Foreign Secretary, William Hague, says Assad was responsible and must be removed. Hague's bad cop hawkishness allows his patron, good cop President Obama, to remain measured 

Foreign Secretary, William Hague, says Assad was  responsible and must be removed. Hague’s bad cop hawkishness allows his patron,  good cop President Obama, to remain measured

The Sarajevo-style plotters of today — Al  Qaeda and associated jihadists — dream of forcing rival blocs to take sides in a  great war, in the hope it will somehow usher in a new, world-wide  Islamic  imperium.

The statesmen of 1914 were adept at  presenting war as the only possible solution, while pushing responsibility from  their own shoulders, says historian Christopher Clark, adding: ‘Their  present-day colleagues have not lost this skill.’

The funny-looking men in jerky old newsreel  film might seem to belong to another world but, as the Nobel prize-winning  novelist William Faulkner remarks, in Requiem For A Nun: ‘The past is never  dead. It’s not even past.’

 

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