For a rollicking sea yarn it is hard to beat ‘Master and Commander – the Far side of the World’ by Patrick O’Brian. The film starred Russell Crowe as the Captain of HMS Surprise, fighting the old enemy during the Napoleonic War. In one scene the ships officers are sat around the dinner table, when Captain Jack Aubrey asks the ship’s surgeon his opinion on two weevils that have emerged from the hard-tack on a plate. Doctor Stephen Maturin, who is also a naturalist, ventures a description of them with the opinion they are identical. Captain Jack presses him to say which one Stephen would choose. Forced to make a choice he goes for the slightly fatter and longer weevil. “There I have you”, declares the Captain, “do you not know that in the Service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils”. With much laughter the officers toast, “The lesser of two weevils”.
This play on words of the maxim ‘the lesser of two evils’ has been proved to be lost on NATO politicians when it comes to the Middle East and in particular Syria. The UK and US in particular have let their obsession with ousting President Assad undermine and override the fight against barbaric ISIL. In this they are totally at odds with public opinion where common sense has prevailed because it is patently clear that whatever faults the Assad regime has, Syria was a modern and pluralistic society that respected the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. In no way is this intended to condone the repression of political opponents by the regime (which coincides with the various Muslim denominations), but this does not justify the obsession of the UK and US with regime change and being the champions of democracy that must be forced on peoples no matter what; even when they are not ready for it or it does not fit with their national psyche. After all, regime change (for which the UK and US have form) is strictly forbidden by the UN Charter. They may have relaxed their demands that Assad must go, but it is still their ultimate aim, and it is clear they have not thought through the end-game.