If insanity is repeating the same failed actions again and again while always expecting a different result, the root of this disorder could partly be said to lie within the deranged thought-patterns spawned by fervent wish-thinking and the inability to accept that certain situations are beyond the control of citizens in the West.
In the face of a 24/7 media culture, instant relaying of images from conflict zones full of civilian casualties and carnage unleashed by deadly air strikes, the immediate impulse from 'liberal interventionists' is that 'something must be done' and that the world's last superpower-the US-is best positioned to 'stop evil'.
East Aleppo has become the new focus of voices demanding action, as though it was as symbolic in the Syrian Civil War as Guernica was in the Spanish Civil War, which started exactly seventy years ago this year, an epochal conflict between heroic doomed rebels fighting against a fascist dictator who had access to superior weapons and air power.
The fact Western liberal democracies-the US, France and Britain-did very little at the time between 1936 and 1939 to prevent Franco's massacres for geopolitical reasons and because of 'appeasement' has been transferred onto the approach between 2011 and 2016 to the Syrian Conflict. It is, however, a bogus historical analogy.
Scott Lucas, a Professor of International Relations and American Studies at Birmingham University has claimed that President Obama's failure to 'act' in Syria would 'tarnish his legacy' when compared tohis constructive approach to China and Latin America ( the rapprochement with Cuba is singled out for praise in particular ).
Lucas claims there was a failure to do anything when Assad's regime reacted with warplanes from the outset when destroying the insurgency in Homs in early 2012. As he puts it, 'the tenor of this scorched earth policy had been set' while Obama dithered with mere economic sanctions. Of course, in 2011 he was dealing with the Libyan crisis too
What Lucas fails to outline in his condemnation of President Obama's 'inaction' is that key US allies in the Middle East were very far from being 'inactive'. This presupposes a simplistic-and somewhat ignorant-perspective as regards the actual facts and the realities behind brutal conflict, one in which the US has not been 'inactive'
By early 2012, even before Iran and its Shia ally Hezbollah got involved, the Gulf States and Turkey, supported by France ,Britain and the US as 'Friends of Syria', were pledged to co-opting the uprising against Assad that had started in 2011 into a geopolitical struggle to overthrow the Syrian leader-'Assad Must Go'
This was made plain in Clinton and Hague's repetitive soundbite ' Assad Must Go'. As usual, stern and sententious liberal internationalist moralism prevailed and was contradicted by the obvious fact that their allies in the struggle were autocracies such as Saudi Arabia which crushed the movement towards democracy in Bahrain in 2012.
The reason the US and Britain tacitly accepted these brutal actions in Bahrain was to uphold the geopolitical order and maintain energy security and the integrity of the oil rich kingdom against the destabilising effects of a Shia uprising from spreading across the border into Shia areas of Saudi Arabia itself
Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, especially Qatar, pumped finance into the coffers of militant Sunni jihadists who had no intention of creating the sort of benign secular democracy Lucas and other liberal interventionists hallucinate would have come out of this civil war if only the US would have used military power to take out Assad's regime.
If the US had done so in 2013, the anarchy would have led to ISIS having a much greater grip over Syria. By then, the Free Syria Army had fragmented into a myriad of competing jihadist militias with fanatical Wahhabi-Salafist ideas. A breakaway faction formed into ISIS in the course of that year and then stormed into Iraq in 2014
Yet the Sunni militias were also fighting the Kurds in 2013 as well as Assad. This is one reason why President Erdogan of Turkey turned a blind eye towards the increasing fanaticism of the Sunni jihadists Lucas regards blandly as all just 'rebels'. If military intervention to remove Assad was justified, then it would also to protect the Kurds.
After all, had Assad been removed in 2013, it is quite likely that sectarian and ethnic cleansing would have increased. Without full scale Western military intervention and troops to occupy Syria, there would likely have been even worse chaos and bloodshed than Libya, another country where 'action' created a worse situation than 'inaction'.
It was only the diversion of the Sunni militias south towards the struggle with Assad in Damascus that gave enough opportunity for the Kurdish YPG militias to withstand the jihadists and also ISIS. In fact, Erdogan claimed back then that Assad and the YPG were aligned against his strategy for promoting democracy in Syria.
Lucas does not even outline what 'doing something' or abandoning 'inaction' would have meant in practice. Syria was not the USA's problem alone to 'solve' by the question of to intervene or not to intervene. It was clear back in 2013 and ever since that only regional and global diplomacy to end a proxy war could hope to end the war.
The age of unilateral interventionism by 'the West' was already over by 2013. There would have been no way either Iran or Russia would have simply allowed the Gulf States to install a Sunni dominated regime that would have conceded a geostrategically vital land to regional rivals with plans also to pump Gulf gas via Turkey towards the EU.
Nor would Qatar have necessarily wanted a democracy, though it claimed it did in Egypt and Libya too, and certainly a despotic Saudi Arabia would have feared that as a 'bad example'. The Syrian conflict was never simply the sort of one that 'decisive intervention' by the US would have been able to end.
On the contrary, a US military intervention could have triggered a greater regional and even global conflagration. Hizbollah was already in Syria. The nuclear deal with Iran had not been struck nor had Iran been drawn back into the fold of diplomacy with the US as regards the fate of the region. Russia had a major naval base at Tarsous.
So the World War Three scenario used by Trump to discredit Hillary Clinton is not the less inaccurate just because Trump is the one saying it. Historians and journalists far more knowledgeable about the Syria conflict than Lucas such as Michael Burleigh, Anatol Lieven and Patrick Cockburn also warned about the dangers.
East Aleppo and Sanaa
During the Presidential election of 2016, Clinton's reckless statement about the need for a 'No-Fly Zone' over Syria ignored the reality that Russia had already since the middle of 2016 implemented one over parts of Syria,most obviously East Aleppo which continues to be bombarded by Russian and Syrian jets.
Apart from the prospect of direct confrontation between Russia and the USA this could well have caused-if she really meant it-, Clinton's foreign policy depended still on the myth,one propagated by Lucas, that there is some predominant 'moderate rebel' force ready to assume power, what he glibly calls 'the opposition',
There is simply no evidence of any such Third Force between Assad and ISIS that could be backed in order to bring a non-sectarian democracy to Syria. In East Aleppo, the Salafi-Jihadists prevail, though this does not justify the crude and indiscriminate ferocity of the air attacks which have led to high levels of civilian casualties.
Despite that, it is hard to see how politicians in the US or 'the West' has much of a moral high ground or any coherent position towards the Middle East. While East Aleppo is focused on, the Saudi bombardment of Sanaa and Houthi areas of Yemen by Saudi aircraft and with Western assistance shows how civilians are sacrificed to geopolitics.
In fact, tacit support of the Gulf State bombings in Yemen is apiece with Syria. Whereas Obama has engaged with Iran to draw it in to a regional diplomacy that aims at diminishing the proxy war in Syria and expressing disapproval of Saudi Arabian policy, it needs to sacrifice Sanaa in order to keep Riyadh onside and secure its interests.
These interests, of course, are not just continued regional hegemony against the rival encroachments of Russia and even China but also control over global energy flows and the multi-billion dollar arms deals that help boost US arms manufacturer's profits and so fund further research and development and maintain its cutting edge position globally.
Yemen in truth is another theatre in a regional proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, just as it is in Syria. But the fate of Sanaa and of Yemen has not received as much attention as East Aleppo because it is not politically convenient to draw parallels and because Russia and Iran are thwarting Western geopolitical ambitions in Syria.