The US must wonder what’s occurring. Poland and the UK have both declined to participate in any armed action against Syria to deter it from using chemical weapons again – assuming it used them in the first place. Polls in both countries show very low levels of support for any intervention.
It makes Poland and UK the strangest of bedfellows. Here are two nations who have traditionally been the staunchest of US allies. Both contributed troops to the coalitions of both Iraq wars. Indeed, they were two of only a handful of nations to join with the US in invading Iraq in 2003. And the historical links and world views of all three nations have pretty much always been closely aligned (give or take the odd war of independence).
The consensus seems to be that both nations were stung by the Iraq war, and in UK, particularly the “dodgy dossier” of inaccurate intelligence. That may well be right, or at least a large part of the explanation, but I’m more interested in what ordinary Poles and Brits make of their country’s stance not to attack Syria.
Speaking only for myself and my Polish wife Marzena – so yes, unscientific!- we have traditionally differed on questions like these. I’ve generally been more interventionist than her, and often questioned where this divergence comes from. My imperialist British routes, perhaps!? It’s possible to make that link, even with the British Empire now fading in the rear view mirror. The Poles’ empire, on the other hand – and yes, they had one stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea – is now well out of sight, and since then there’s been more subjugation than domination for the Poles. Do these experiences play into national psyches, and attitudes to war?
I’m finding my own attitude ambivalent on this latest crisis. For the first time, I’m beginning to understand the attraction of non-intervention on what is a horribly messy situation on the ground. It’s not as simple as lobbing missiles at Assad to stop him being a naughty boy. In fact, there’s a complex web of competing sectarian groups in Syria and the neighbouring countries that we have as little chance of finally resolving as we did in Iraq, where bombs still regularly explode. That said, on balance I probably would take some limited action in the hope it would deter Assad: it’s difficult to stand to one side and watch the terrible suffering in Syria.
And the biggest irony in all this of course, is that France – according to the US, their “oldest” ally – appears to be in the van with the Americans. Whether or not this is to do with historical ties – Syria was a French mandate from 1920-1943 – it makes for more strange bedfellows. One needs only the shortest of memories to recall how unpopular the French were with the Americans for threatening to use their UN veto in the run up to the Second Gulf War.
Does this mean French fries are back on the menu?