So Tony Abbott is in trouble in Australia for a supposed gaffe. Discussing the Syrian crisis, he said:
“It’s not goodies versus baddies, it’s baddies versus baddies and that’s why it’s very important that we don’t make a very difficult situation worse.”
Cue outrage of the “foreign policy is much more complicated than goodies versus baddies” variety.
But isn’t he actually making a rather perceptive point, dealing with the sort of thing Tony Blair was arguing in yesterday’s Sunday Times, where he made the case in favour of intervention, based on the idea that we should be picking a side.
“At some point we will realise this is one battle, it is crucial to our security and we have to take sides.”
And while we would all like to help end Syria’s conflict, one of the problems is that we don’t really quite know how to achieve this. Assad was at least at one time a leader who seemed to protect minorities while the rebels have a worrying history of sectarian attacks. (Read this for example, about how they have murdered and burned their way through Assad’s Alawite heartland.) Would taking the rebels’ side, arming them and helping them to power, actually open the way to a new type of sectarian hell?
One of the lessons I have learned from 10 years reporting on conflicts from Darfur to Afghanistan, via Benghazi and the Middle East, is that the good guys and bad guys are often indistinguishable apart from their place within our own geo-strategic interests.
In Syria, Assad is waging a brutal, bloody and probably illegal war, using nerve agents and ruthless resolve. But I’m not sure that actually makes the rebels the good guys either. It’s shades of grey.
That is one of the reasons the rest of the world remains paralysed in response. And while Tony Abbott may have used rather folksy language, I have to say I agree with him.