Saturday, 7 September 2013

Frankie Goes To Damascus

The current impasse over Syria between Presidents Obama and Putin, which came to a head at this week's G20 summit with separate camps and even dinner table snubs, is redolent of a time which supposedly ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like an unwelcome odour from a stale fridge, a blast of Cold War bombast errupted from both sides, with America shaping up for a unilateral strike on Syria while rumours abound of a possible strike on Saudi Arabia by Putin if an American attack on Damascus goes ahead - Russia holds Saudi Arabia responsible for supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels and to Islamists in Russian-held Chechenya.

In between all this posturing by men who happily sell weapons to nearly all-takers, sit of course millions of innocent Syrians, who side with neither force in their civil war and live in constant fear of attack from all quarters. The delicate balance between different ethnic and religious groups in one of the relatively few genuinely secular states in the Middle East is lost on the policymakers in Moscow and Washington (as well as the media and public nearly everywhere) as they play their Power Politics games, posturing and threatening.

At least following the vote in the House of Commons, Britain seems out of the race to fire missiles into Syria, however accidentally. But what would truly concentrate minds on the only feasible outcome - peace talks - might be if rather than using hi-tech missiles or "boots on the ground" in the form of infantry and marines, our conservative-leaning leaders resorted to a more traditional means of conflict resolution.

Settling war by a duel between the leaders.

David & Goliath dueled to settle the war of the Israelites and Philistines
Yes, perhaps it is time for our Presidents and Premiers to go themselves where they currently put others in harm's way: let Putin and Obama, and Assad and the leader of al-Qaeda in Syria sort it all out in the arena. Middle East "Peace" Envoy Tony Blair could be even thrown in for a bit of warm up sport between them all. After all, look back in history and there are at least a few examples of leaders with the bravery to save the lives of their troops and civilians by settling their scores in precisely this way, and duels, whilst illegal, were a not unknown feature of early US politics.

In more modern times, especially recent decades, not only do political leaders no longer actively participate in the wars they start, many have never even seen military service whilst apparently happily using the military to project their own policies and strategy from the safety of their command posts. They are far removed from the consequences of all their talk, or failure to talk. A system of leaders' duels would soon change that. Indeed, as one writer noted at the time of the Iraq war, when the Iraqi Vice-President was dismissed as "irresponsible" by the White House for suggesting Saddam and Bush fight a duel to settle their differences rather than engage in total war, such personalisation of combat would completely transform international politics.

Sound familiar if far-fetched? Yes, all these year's ago in the mid-1980s, Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes envisaged the Soviet and American leaders in (unarmed) hand to hand combat in a boxing ring. So, time to dust down the video and call out our leaders, the donkeys who pretend to be lions.

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