Bombs Away

Funny how the Syria bombing saga mirrors events pre-Iraq. Cameron’s off-guard ‘terrorist sympathisers’ remark reminded me of John Reid, as Tony Blair’s studio attack dog, saying that opposition to invading Iraq meant supporting Saddam. It’s the You’re Either With Us Or You’re Against Us routine that forces you into an entrenched position and does so from a false prospectus.

This question is a kind of moral maze because as soon as you see one route through, you’re ambushed by the unforeseen. Thus, ‘I don’t agree with military action in Syria’ is immediately compromised by the fact we already have troops on the ground doing reconnaissance, intelligence and training – just not fighting as such, if you see the difference. We are now being asked to bomb ISIS using RAF jets but we have already been bombing them with drones. What’s the difference? We currently have a bombing role over the frontier in Iraq against the same enemy so, if we want to stop them, why not do so?

We are welcomed in by the Syrian ‘government’ but seem to be opposed by many of the citizens of Syria. The Syrian government of course is our sworn enemy whom we are committed to ousting – once we’ve strengthened him by destroying his – and our – enemy. Look harder and you see Turkey, a NATO ally, not just shooting down Russian jets but waging a separate war against the Kurdish Peshmerga who are the most effective force on the ground against…ISIS. Russia now doesn’t trust Turkey yet they are ostensibly on the same side. (Some Russian revenge is likely at an unexpected moment). Western nations, whose interventions always lead to radicalisation, put people and resources into the effort while Arab nations do what exactly?

Some have joined bombing raids but the reaction has been tepid, both to fighting ISIS and to taking Syrian refugees, even among the wealthy oil nations. Have we defined their role in this conflict? Saudi Arabia and Qatar stand accused of financing and arming anti-Bashir Assad rebels of whom ISIS is one.

‘The Saudi, Emirati and Qatari approach has been to sign a check and let everyone else deal with it,’ according to Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch. ‘Now everyone else is saying, That’s not fair.’

What about Britain’s role? The trial of a terror suspect was abandoned in London in June when it became clear British intelligence he had been arming the same terror groups he was accused of supporting. It was a joint mission with the CIA operating a ‘rat line’ for arms to go from Libya to Syrian opposition to Assad. (We have been arming the very people we now want to fight).

The EU imposed an arms embargo on Syria in 2011 but several states – led by the UK and France – lobbied to be able to supply arms to ‘moderate’ forces in the opposition and foreign ministers agreed to let the embargo lapse two years later. There is no official evidence of direct EU arms going to rebels though…

This is a toxic mix of conflicting loyalties and dubious objectives. But let’s put all that to one side for a moment and decide we do want to stop ISIS. Nobody says RAF bombs will do that. The only way to achieve success is to ally the bombing to a multi-national military force which is mandated by the UN. It must include troops from the Gulf area not just our personnel. This is the only way of militarily eradicating ISIS.

At the same time, all financing channels for ISIS must be closed off through the international banking system. No country should be allowed to buy the oil which pays for the terrorists. The UN should sponsor a peace conference to organize an agreed outcome for Syria which rebuilds the country, endorses a representative government, prevents reprisals and prepares for a mass return of refugees. The root cause of terrorism should be addressed to block the rise another version of ISIS.

Impossible? Of course. We do want to get rid of ISIS but not that much. There are too many vested interests and embedded attitudes at work here for anything other than a cursory mini war. If the great nations really felt threatened the impetus for action would be unstoppable and, instead of dreaming of his peace-with-Iran legacy, Obama would be leading it and demanding action from Tehran and the Saudis for a start. The grim truth appears to be that Paris is now just one of those occasional horror shows that scare us for a week and then fade. Remember the Spanish train attack in 2004? 191 killed and 1800 injured by al Qaeda. They come and go like plane crashes. We shudder and thank our lucky stars.

But let’s not pretend our political masters are totally committed to beating this and then ensuring there is political and economic stability afterwards. This is all about doing something and hoping for the best without knowing what or ultimately caring enough. Cameron wouldn’t risk a vote when he thought he might lose because a red face meant more to him than ISIS. General Dannat, former head of the Army, said Britain had to bomb to be ‘part of the club’. We have to be with the big boys, it’s our destiny, don’t you know?

So I think I am prepared to back bombing Syria, if there is a UN-sanctioned international force on the ground to finish the job, a systematic programme of stopping the funding and a comprehensive post-war peace plan for the whole Iraq/ Syria/Iran theatre. In other words, I am effectively a No.

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12 thoughts on “Bombs Away

  1. Great article Derek, one of the most helpful I’ve read.

    Craig Murray the other day was calling Ian Murray a weasel because Murray thinks we need troops on the ground in order to achieve anything.

    But as various expert academic opinion has said in the National today, it’s more than just ousting and destroying ISIS. There needs to be an internationally agreed plan for what will replace the power vacuum that would ensue – something that was missing after Saddam was ousted. Because this is precisely what has caused the current instability.

    The point is we just don’t have much of a clue what is going on here never mind what ought to happen in terms of a lasting political solution. Until we find that, going to war or committing ground troops is pointless.

  2. Our top priority should be for the welfare of the vast majority of Syrians who want nothing to do with either Assad or Daesh.
    However,as usual with the British state,violent repression is their first option and hang the consequences for the innocents involved.
    Cameron appears to have delivered a comprehensive bombing strategy for Syria but little else and how he thinks the RAF can deliver a peaceful outcome with a few military aircraft when the Americans have been doing this in far larger numbers for years without success is a mystery to me.
    He will no doubt get his vote,thanks to the Blairites in the Labour party,but will have lost any credibility he may think he had as a statesman.

  3. Not a thing to be added.

    There is no easy out, or solution once this short termist policy is set in motion. There is only more tragedy and conflict stored for future generations and administrations.

  4. Great post Derek. If the US coalition wanted to stop ISIS then they would have already cut off funding and weapons supplies. Only Russia has bombed the oil convoys heading to Turkey which tells you everything about what the real priorities are for the US and their hangers on.

    Only a NO vote in Westminster can provide us with some sanity, but I doubt that that is likely.

  5. Actually, British servicemen have been bombing in Syria for some time. They are officially “on attachment” to the US forces, which a serving PR officer attempted to explain to me as not being the UK’s responsibility because they wear US uniforms, get US pay and act on US orders – although their substantive posts are with UK forces. Together with drone assassinations, the UK is already up to its neck in illegal military operations there, despite the previous reservations of parliament.

    Sometimes it seems the last reasonable Prime Minister the UK had was Harold Wilson, who did all he could to keep us out of the war in Viet Nam and its neighbouring countries.

  6. Curious that the “Assad Regime” is supposed to be big impediment to peace and stability in Syria yet there has been no question of the super dooper UK jets and smart Brimstone bombs being dropped on Assad and his family. It cannot be that he is difficult to target as the BBC regularly interview him.

    The whole military effort is a nonsense. A fraction of the resources expended on the military spent on weaning the West off Arab oil and they could be left alone to sort out their own ethnic, religious and tribal squabbles.
    Sickening that Corbyn did not have the balls to impose a 3 line whip then sack shadow cabinet members who vote for bombing today.

    • The Russians will not allow the UK to attack Assad and in fact,due to the deployment of large numbers of their anti aircaft batteries,will determine where and when HM air force can operate.
      Bad news for Cameron’s claims about not allowing others to determine his course of action.
      In the grand scheme of things,he is not even a sub contractor.

  7. Alex reinforces the case against bombing and points out that cutting the lifelines of money, oil and internet reach would effectively paralyse Daesh and make it easier for them to be routed. For the cost of one sortie, you could have thousands of people acting as hackers into Daesh’s systems. Yet, this is described by one supporter after another as “doing nothing”.

    So now we know. The government is not interested in doing what will work, but simply wants to be part of the bombing club so they can be seen to be doing something. It’s the same argument, albeit on a far graver scale, than that used for sneering at those who choose not to wear poppies but instead to support our veterans in less overt and public ways.

    This move to bomb Syria is pure hypocrisy. It is based on flag-waving and not astute strategy. It’s based on profit to those who profit from war, and not remotely to do with actually doing something that will work.

    • Raymond Baker (Capitalism’s Achilles Heel) said 10 years ago that terrorists would use the exact same route to smuggle money into the eager arms of Western financial institutions as other money launderers and companies that continue to take truck loads of $$$$ out of developing countries and park them in safe and secure tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions all facilities by willing western banks and with the connivance of western governments.

      They won’t take any serious action because it would harm the “legitimate” money launderers such as the big multinationals.

  8. Alasdair Macdonald

    Well done. This is a complex issue, which goes back further than the atrocities in Paris to the fall of the Ottoman Empire and Sykes and Picot drawing lines on a map; perhaps, even longer. There are no straightforward ‘solutions’ and, as you have illustrated, they run into walls pretty quickly.
    Sadly, this matter has been presented in much of the media as air attacks on Raqqa, because Daesh are a shower of murdering, racist, homophobic, misogynistic torturers. And, of course, based on what we have read, that is what they are. We must ensure our own safety at home. But bombing Raqqa will not do that. It requires the complex mix of things you have mentioned and the solution will be messy, but it will be the ‘least worst’ and will probably include the continuation of the Assad Government in some part of Syria.
    However, it must be remembered that those who carried out the attack on Paris and those who undertook 7/7 in London, were substantially ‘home reared’. So, we have to deal with issues of alienation, not just of young Muslims, but of everyone who is being pauperised, disempowered, isolated. That is, probably a majority of the population, including once ‘secure’ middle class people. We need an end to austerity, which is the transfer of wealth and power from most of us to the few very wealthy and powerful, we need greater genuine participative democracy, we need land reform and a range of other things to reduce inequality.

  9. There is no “rebuilding” Syria or Iraq. The genie is out of the bottle and the post-Ottoman settlement is dead. It never had any merit anyway. The peoples of the Middle East must be allowed to find their own future.

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