One always knew, as with the averred statistical likelihood of a million chimpanzees with a million keyboards in a million years eventually producing the equivalent of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, that it had to happen. Now after a lifetime of effort, former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has at last said something intelligent.

Palin, who has a tenuous grasp of geopolitics, once famously indicated that she thought Africa was a single country. Nor could she name the members of the North American Free Trade Agreement. This hardly demands a mnemonic. The clue is in ‘North American’: it’s the United States, Mexico and Canada.

None of this bothered the notoriously insular American right. After all, her running mate, John McCain, had all the necessary cosmopolitan credentials from his youth as a naval aviator, having helped napalm bomb much of South-East Asia ‘back into the Stone Age’, as the air chief of staff of the time put it.

Following upon the drubbing the pair took from Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, Palin faded from public debate. This week, however, she suddenly popped up when the White House announced its intention to intervene in the Syrian conflict by arming the rebels, after the Syrian military had allegedly used chemical weapons, and in so doing crossed the US ‘red line’.

Palin’s reaction? Unlike McCain, who is all gung-ho to go, she rejects US intervention. Her solution? Since it’s a religious conflict, ‘I say, let Allah sort it out.’

It’s flip – with Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims pledging to obliterate one another, what irony a future where the only Muslims remaining live in the West – but it’s also flipping brilliant. Just this once, Obama should heed what is the Hamlet moment in Palin’s life, for there actually are good reasons to eschew intervention.

To start with, it has taken Obama more than four years to extract the US from the mires of Iraq and Afghanistan, into which his predecessor, President George W Bush, had dumped the country. It’s simply bizarre now to intercede in a Middle East civil war that has as explosive a mix of ancient ethnic, tribal and religious rivalries.

In a conflict where not even the combatants understand all the nuances, the US hasn’t begun to grapple with the ramifications of intervention. The Syrian historical tangle is complicated further by the military involvement, both directly and by proxy, of various Muslim rivals, including Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as – on opposite sides – terror organisations like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, at the same time that Britain and France encourage Obama, Russia is stepping up surface-to-air missile supplies to President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime.

There’s also the less than compelling evidence of Syria’s government crossing the ‘red line’. Obama’s ‘humanitarian’ intervention of war materiel is at this stage based on traces of exposure to sarin poison found in only two autopsies. That’s akin to the risible level of ‘proof’ of Weapons of Mass Destruction that Bush used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The American left – if such a creature can be said to exist – has been muted in its response to Obama’s announcement, with newspapers like the liberal New York Times debating intervention largely on its supposed humanitarian merits. They should instead ponder the nasty unintended consequences of other failed ‘humanitarian’ interventions that the US has made in the post-World War Two era.

Former US defence secretary Robert Gates, who served under both George W and Obama, has highlighted the dangers of an inadvertently escalating intervention. The US ‘overestimates [its] ability to determine outcomes’ and military involvement in Syria’s crisis would be a ‘mistake’, Gates told CBS last month.

Obama should spare the world the US’s good intentions and hand this particular one over for Divine resolution, as per Palin’s advice.


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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