Country notes

The early sun below the hill was turning the dawn clouds orange as I ran down the hill this morning. The electric fence has been moved and the cows, Belted Galloways, now graze the eastern side of the common, whereas before they roamed more widely. I have to avoid cows pats and there are big dents in the hoof-trodden earth.

Back Saturday from three days in the Welsh borders, near Oswestry. Oswald’s tree: named for the defeated king and saint from whose dismembered body a bird picked an arm and where it dropped it a tree grew. I’m sure they have dismembered bodies in Game of Thrones, but do trees grow from arms? (Please advise.) We’re back in 642AD, so all things were possible then.

There used in the first half of the 19th century to be a racecourse on Offa’s Dyke above Oswestry, and the stone foundations of the grandstand still sit there, on the edge of the woods, a local equivalent of a Mayan ruin on the edge of the jungle…

Adjacent to the grandstand a common stretches east along the hill, and scattered across it last Friday were the remnants of a multitude, a small army, of snowmen which the locals must have had great fun building a day or two earlier. Now the snow has gone, but the snowmen remain…

I mentioned Game of Thrones. Also on TV, BBC TV, another army will be gathering, the Russian army, to face Napoleon, as the battle of Borodino looms. We’re back in 1812, and it’s War and Peace.

Syria – a just war?

Can I justify supporting military action while writing a ‘zenpolitics’ blog? Can there be such a things as a ‘just war’? When is intervention justified in the affairs of another state? Ultimately the justification has to be humanitarian, and that’s the way I see the situation in Syria. Iraq 2003 was political, with grand ideas of a new world order, and economic, riddled through with self-interest, and with remarkably little thought given to the likely consequences.

Intervention in Syria this time around has to be step by step, where we have a clear end in view but revise our position in the light of circumstances. IS poses an extraordinary threat to lives and values, and requires – demands – an immediate and practical response.

I’m also troubled by my argument that the Assad regime should be included in the alliance against IS. I’m well aware of its brutality. But if the shortest route to ending violence has to involve Assad, and I believe it does, he should be included. The US, Russia, France, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Iran, all working together, bringing together diverse interests but with a common goal, is our best chance.

I’ve argued often that compassion has to come first in all our considerations. How that’s expressed toward the people of Syria, toward people in any war situation, is a mighty challenge. But we cannot sit on the sidelines, we cannot wait for grand strategies to be put in place. And we must avoid cheap accusations of warmongering. We have a war on our hands, not in our backyard, but one with profound implications for all of us. We have to respond.