The government wants to bomb Syria. We need to understand the problems Cameron faces making that happen so as to oppose the push to war, argues Colin Wilson.
Cameron wants to bomb Syria, but he faces problems doing so. The major problem in parliamentary terms is a report about British bombing of Syria produced by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee less than a month ago. The report was authored by a majority of Tory MPs, as well as Labour MPs like Anne Clwyd and Mike Gapes who were pro-war in 2003 – people who have no problems with war, but want to go to war only if it is in the interests of Britain’s rulers. Their report noted a “powerful sense that something must be done” to oppose ISIS in Syria. As we learned in September, Britain is already using drones in Syria. But the report also noted five areas of concern before Britain committed to further military involvement:
- Involvement may be illegal
The committee notes that Britain suffered “reputational damage” after it went to war in 2003 with a dubious legal mandate.
- Airstrikes will be ineffective
Adding UK airstrikes to American ones in Syria will have only a “marginal effect” without “reliable allies on the ground” who can “move in and take areas which had been attacked”.
- The political situation in Syria is complex
The committee found that the situation in Syria involved “thousands of fighting forces in various coalitions and umbrella organisations, with unclear aspirations and shifting alliances. The complex nature of the situation makes it hard to guess the consequences of tackling just ISIL, or to predict what group would take their territory if they were defeated.”
- Many other countries are involved
These include the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudia Arabia and Qatar: international involvement complicates things even further.
- Airstrikes may undermine diplomacy
Diplomacy and military action should reinforce each other. There is the risk that bombing may make a diplomatic solution harder to achieve.
The committee then sets out seven issues that need to be resolved before parliament approves bombing. Many of these focus on the eventual outcome: will bombing help defeat ISIS? Which ground forces will hold and administer territory captured from IS? How would it contribute to a longer term “transition plan” for Syria?
All this shows that the British ruling class doesn’t want a repeat of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s now clear that Britain went to war on the basis of lies. That might have been forgotten if the war had been a success, but it wasn’t. All this means they can’t use the justification of “humanitarian intervention” to justify military adventures. And that gets in the way of the foreign policy Britain had adopted for many decades, to act as a junior partner to America. As the report puts it, “the extension of airstrikes would help the UK to be seen as a ‘good ally’ to the US and its partners in the region (or rather, remove the current diplomatic embarrassment of it appearing not to being fully committed to the coalition plan).”
The attacks in Paris and Mali have enormously increased the feeling that “something must be done” about ISIS. The government’s response is to try and find a way past the many issues that stop them bombing Syria. Many Labour MPs, just as committed as Blair was to British military interventions, feel the same way. The best possible outcome from their point of view is to turn the clock back to before Afghanistan and Iraq by making “humanitarian intervention” credible again. It’s for this reason that we’re seeing, from forces including both Tory and Labour MPs, a series of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and Stop the War Coalition. The last thing the pro-war forces want is anti-war protests and meetings, making opposition to war clear and reminding people that the context for the development of ISIS was created by the invasion of Iraq.
Cameron is committed to responding by the end of this week to Foreign Affairs Committee’s report. Some previously sceptical MPs – such as Crispin Blunt, Tory chair of the committee – have fallen into line. Blunt stated on Friday that “the circumstances have completely changed” in the last month, though it’s hard to see how. Many of the questions his committee raised in their report remain unanswered, and it’s hard to see what convincing response Cameron can give. For examples, what ground forces exist that can hold areas, and provide necessities such as food, once air attacks have defeated ISIS? And what is the final plan for Syria? After all, the vast majority of people who have died in Syria in since 2011 – over 200,000 – of them have died at the hands of the Assad regime. But there is no sign of Russia abandoning Assad, its only client in the region. While Russia claims to be attacking ISIS, many feel that its real agenda is to defend Assad. Human rights observers say that its air strikes have killed over 400 civilians since they began in September, including almost 100 children.
We need continue raising all these difficult questions as Cameron attempts to make the case for war. As the warmongers try to erase what so many people learned after Iraq – that humanitarian intervention is a lie – we need to do everything we can to support the anti-war movement.
Finally, we need to stand in solidarity with migrants. We have already seen Muslims scapegoated by the Home Office’s Prevent strategy. Now that the government feels the need to act, while knowing how many issues stand in their way in Syria, they may “do something” by attacking migrants – often people fleeing just the kind of horrible attack that took place in Paris. Racism and war won’t stop such attacks – they will only escalate the decades-long cycle of violence that has brought us where we are today.