It is often said that the decision to go to war is the hardest one a politician can ever make, and I certainly do not doubt the sincerity of anyone who spoke in the Commons yesterday. Some of the speeches were very good, particularly those of Margaret Beckett and Hillary Benn in favour of the motion. One could appreciate the forensic skill of both Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond as they argued against intervention.
But there was also something more than a little troubling about the whole event. Here was a bunch of comfortable men and women, debating in a safe and protected place far away from the troubles they were intending to solve. Most spoke with authority and with the assurance of a deep knowledge of the subject, which some may indeed have. But still, the debate was about intervening in another country and with unknown consequences for those poor benighted people who are now in the way of our bombs. Of course, those who opposed the bombing were just as sure of their views and just as confident in their ability to know what was best for those in a far away place. Very few of those who took part in the debate acknowledged their ignorance, partial or otherwise. Nor was their much of a recognition of our right to intervene in the affairs of others.
It is this point – that it is none of our business – that offers the most pervasive argument against military intervention. What right have we to become involved and impose ourselves on others? Is it hubris or simply misguided intentions? Problems that are far away appear to be much more simple than those we can see close to. As such, it is actually a lot easier to go to war in a far away place and convince ourselves that we are doing some good. But it is not for us to involve ourselves in the affairs of others. Instead we should be focusing on what is close to us and on what we can, with some greater degree of certainty, affect. We have enough problems of our own to focus on. But then, perhaps because these problems are of our making, we actually find them the hardest things to tackle.