We have to break out of our narrow navel-gazing: this is the Spanish civil war of our times

These past few days have been a watershed for Europe. I’m not thinking about Brexit, but about Syria – which increasingly looks like our 21st-century Spanish civil war. Western and European defeat in Syria (by which I mean political and moral, not just military defeat) has parallels with the 1930s when democracies were unable or unwilling to stand up to authoritarians when it mattered, or even to play any kind of meaningful role in preventing a catastrophe that would soon enough engulf them, too.

Events in north-eastern Syria are obviously tragic, if not lethal, for the tens of thousands of people caught up in them locally. But they will also have an impact on Europe in more ways than we perhaps care to acknowledge. Donald Trump himself has said as much, casually pointing out that Islamic State-connected foreign fighters now on the loose would make their way back to Europe. He made clear that that is a problem Europe would have to handle alone. As bad as that prospect is, it is only one part of a wider picture that should make Europeans feel desolate: at a crucial moment in history, the Russia-Iran authoritarian axis is now fully victorious on Europe’s doorstep.

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