One hour after the British Parliament voted this week for military intervention in Syria, RAF warplanes began bombing Syria. This is another rush to war by Britain whose recent record of military interventions has been an unmitigated disaster. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have been bombed into failed, terrorist-spawning states by Britain, along with its ally in Washington. Why should Syria be any different, going by this criminal record of imperialist barbarism?
It truly is astounding that British MPs could be so myopic about recent history and Britain’s responsibility for unleashing conflict and terrorism across the Middle East and North Africa.
Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron finally got his parliament’s approval for extending British air strikes from Iraq to now include Syria. Two years ago, Cameron’s plans to bomb Syria were resoundingly rejected by the House of Commons. This week, he won approval with a wide majority of 174 votes, including 66 from the main Opposition party, Labour.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had urged his party to vote against the govern-ment’s proposal. But Corbyn was defied in an open revolt by half of his shadow cabinet, including the party deputy leader, Tom Watson, and his foreign secretary, Hilary Benn. The latter is son of the late Tony Benn, a staunch anti-war socialist. (Talk about a twisted betrayal of ideals!)
Corbyn argued that Cameron’s military plans in Syria did not «stack up». The Labour leader said: «He [Cameron] knows that opposition to his ill-thought-out rush to war is growing. On planning, strategy, ground troops, diplomacy, the terrorist threat, refugees and civilian casualties, it’s become increasingly clear the prime minister’s proposal simply doesn’t stack up».
Corbyn added that Britain’s intervention will lead to more terrorism across the region, and that it was an insidious move towards «mission creep» that will see deeper military involvement.
So how did Cameron succeed in getting the British parliament to back him? As Guardian commentator Simon Jenkins wrote: «Like Tony Blair before the Iraq invasion in 2003, he [Cameron] had to rely on abusing his opponents, scaring the public and disseminating dubious intelligence».
The Conservative leader had two days before the vote denounced Corbyn and anyone opposing the motion as «a bunch of terrorist sympathisers». It was a low-ball trick to demonise and poison the debate. It was also a reprise of previous toxic remarks painting Corbyn as a «Britain-hating extremist».
In the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, when 130 people were killed by suicide bombers belonging to the so-called Islamic State (IS), the British government moved quickly to capitalise on public fear. Cameron claimed that the same terror group was «plotting to kill British people… and we can’t sit back and wait for them to attack us».
Then there was the dubious claim made by the prime minister that British warplanes would be working with «70,000» moderate rebels in Syria, which would ensure that President Assad could be removed while also defeating the Islamic State terrorists. Cameron claimed that he obtained the 70,000 figure from his intelligence services, but even a senior member of his own party scoffed at the estimate and said the notion of «bogus battalions» was reminiscent of Blair’s «dodgy dossier» on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
In addition to fear and dodgy intelligence, the Conservative government also played on emotional blackmail. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said there was a moral case for Britain «coming to the aid of our ally France». Days after the Paris massacre, the French government gave the go-ahead for increased air strikes in Syria. British leaders were now saying that the country had to show solidarity with the French victims of terror. To object to military action was tantamount to being labelled as «callous and cowardly».
British warplanes will now join American and French fighter jets already bombing Syria, allegedly to combat the IS terror network. Already, the British Tornados dispatched this week have targeted oil facilities in eastern Syria, according to London’s defence ministry.
The crucial difference with Russian aerial operations is that the latter are being carried out with the consent of the Syrian government. Russian air strikes are also being coordinated with Syrian army ground troops. That makes them both legal and effective in destroying IS and other jihadist terror bases. Moscow this week reiterated its criticism of US, French and now British aerial operations as being in violation of international law, since the Syrian government has not authorised their actions on its territory. It can’t get much more brazenly criminal than that.
The results of Russia’s nearly two-month-old intervention have surpassed the outcome of over a year of US-led bombing operations. That is because Russia has an effective ally on the ground in the form of the Syrian army. America, France and Britain do not have such a decisive edge to their operations. And that is why the US-led bombing campaign can only lead to more havoc and violence. To use a crude expression of futility, it’s like urinating into a violin to make music.
There is, of course, the question about whether the Western coalition is even serious about the stated objective of «degrading and defeating terrorists» in Syria. While Washington, Paris and London have belatedly focused on Islamic State oil smuggling, their efforts are undermined by the over-riding goal of toppling the Assad government by assisting a nebulous network of «rebels». Most of these are not «moderates» or «secular» as the West makes out, against all reason and evidence.
The Pentagon’s own admission of abject failure to recruit a force of «anti-IS rebels» is proof that there is no such constituency on the ground. There is also plenty of evidence to show that weapons piled into Syria by the West and their regional allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have ended up in the hands of extremist jihadis. The Western selective focus on IS – ineffective as it is – is based on a spurious assumption that all other militant groups are somehow not associated terror groups.
Cameron’s wildly inflated figure of «70,000 rebels» belonging to the Free Syrian Army is a gross misconception, if not outright misinformation. As reported here in a previous column, the FSA is just as every bit as barbaric as the IS brigades. The Western distinctions about these brigades are a cynical delusion, aimed at trying to convince public opinion that their governments are not simply involved in a criminal war for regime change in a sovereign country through the deployment of myriad terrorist proxies.
Following the vote to bomb Syria, Cameron declared that «Britain will be safer now». Another shameless manipulation of public emotions. In truth, the opposite is likely the case, as seasoned Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn argued in The Independent.
As in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Britain and its regime-change allies are going to appreciably increase the chances that Syria will become a failed state where terror groups fester and run amok. Four after years bombing Libya into an ongoing state of bloody chaos, Cameron and his NATO allies are now on the cusp of repeating the same destructive experiment in Syria.
Only Russia’s intervention in Syria has logic, legality and morality on its side. Supporting the Syrian state from a foreign-orchestrated regime change war is the only sound military strategy to defeat terrorism. Any action by the regime changers is bound to lead to more conflict.
Russian warplanes are vying for Syrian airspace with American, French and British aircraft. At this stage, all are saying their operations are on the same page – against IS. But what if fellow NATO member Turkey decides again to shoot-down a Russian fighter jet? What will its Western allies do if Russia rightly takes out a Turkish offender with its newly installed S-400 air defence system?
What will happen when Russia continues to target jihadists and «moderates» whom the West claims, imaginatively, are «legitimate rebels»? How will Russia respond if NATO forces target Syrian army units hitting alleged Western-backed «rebels»?
British addition of more warplanes to the already-crowded Syrian conflict is wholly wrong, just as the Americans and French are. Their underlying criminal objectives of regime change preclude them from bringing any good to the situation.
That’s why the majority of the British public and most of the Labour Party under Corbyn are right to vehemently oppose this rush to war. It can only lead to a deteriorating human catastrophe in Syria, with more terrorism in the region and in Europe. And, at worse, create a dangerous slippery slope towards a confrontation between world powers.