Syria is the news again, first from Assad's horrific use of chemical weapons and then with mass cheering and celebrations as Donald Trump fired off missiles at an airfield, which is apparently the equivalent of drawing Excalibur from the stone in American politics. This has led to much warbling about the costs of inaction and pile-ons of Jeremy Corbyn, as is tradition.
First something to dispense with quickly, before the serious discussion: it is worth noting that there are always important lessons to learn from the consequences of inaction, but never any important lessons to learn from the consequences of taking action. It is notable that the people who have wailed and gnashed their teeth over what inaction has done tend to be the same people who get very shirty if you point out that the Iraq War led to ISIS, or who pretend that Libya is a country with the same status as Narnia.
The main thing about the inaction/action dichotomy, and the one that tends to get obscured, is this:
It's never a choice between inaction and action but rather inaction and a specific form of action. And that's the key point. Back in 2013, when the original vote was taken, it was a choice between inaction, and taking the time to rethink the plan and come up with something better, or firing a couple of missiles at Damascus and then slapping each other on the back shouting 'we did something! We did something!'
This is a point that is missed frequently--when Ed Milliband whipped Labour to vote against the war the position was not 'no war' but 'this plan sucks, come up with a better one'. It was Cameron who subsequently threw a temper tantrum and refused to do anything. Doing something other than firing missiles or dropping bombs would have, after all, forced him to actually think about the situation.
All wars are complex and civil wars especially so: they don't reward people bounding in without any clue of what they're doing or what their end goal is. And that is the level the discussion on action should take: what are we doing? Why are we doing it? What the end goal is? And how is this going to help? These are the bare minimum of questions that need to be asked and answered before military humanitarian interventions are taken. After that there is more planning. It's a time consuming process that requires a lot of careful thought, but all actions that directly involve human lives should be thought about carefully.
And even then, military humanitarian interventions are not the only forms of action that can be taken. There are others that can be just as helpful, if not more so. For example, we could have taken action to help Syria. We could have welcomed in the refugees. We could have set up humanitarian centres to protect people, give them food and safe passage. Instead we spent most of time actively making it harder for people to get out of danger, actively making it easier for them to drown in the Mediterranean and using them as an excuse to run racist campaigns and push personal agendas.
Firing missiles is not taking decisive action to resolve a situation. It's just virtue-signalling with a body count.