THE CHILCOT REPORT into Britain’s war on Iraq was nine years in the making, but if you thought its lessons had been understood by the government or the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party, think again.
“Something must be done” has become the default position of western powers in the face of tyrannical regimes they dislike - although the mantra is used pretty selectively. It was used in Iraq and Libya to catastrophic effect and is now the rationale for bombing Syria - this time without even a debate vote in Parliament. While the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in this conflict is a contemptible war crime, it’s hard to see how the UK-US-French bombing of what was clearly not a chemical weapons facility will be a deterrent for their future use.
In fact, Britain’s policy undermines the removal of chemical weapons from this conflict. When Jeremy Corbyn suggested that the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons be given time to do its job, a major media attack by the warmongers was unleashed on this Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation. But this is unsurprising given that the Barzah Scientific Research Centre bombed by our planes had weeks earlier been cleared of any chemical or biological weapons production by this body.
The western governments perpetrating this illegal bombing have reassured Russia and Syria that they are not seeking regime change in Damascus. This is just as well, as to do so they would need carpet bombing and large scale ground troops - a quagmire that would multiply the extremist jihad groups the west purports to oppose. Given that, one wonders what yardstick of success could possibly be used to assess this action. Even Syria’s rebels argue that the air strikes will probably lead to more civilians being targeted.
Like Libya before it, Syria is often held up as an example of what happens when the west fails to intervene. But this is nonsense. The US has been bombing for some time. It has 2,000 troops there and even under Obama the CIA was spending a billion dollars a year supporting anti-government militias. Britain’s client states - the Saudi and Qatari dictatorships
- have also poured billions of dollars into the conflict, arming extremist groups that have committed serial atrocities.
May’s apparent outrage at the use of chemical weapons is matched only by her complicity in other aspects of the conflict. When Turkey systematically targeted Kurdish civilians in its attack on Afrin, the government championed “Turkey’s legitimate interest in the security of its borders,” despite the leading role
Kurdish forces have played in driving Isis from Syria. But then Turkey is our ally. Despite the fact that it has more journalists in jail than any other country in the world, around 132,000 people detained, more than 150,000 state employees sacked and almost 200 media outlets shut down, the Erdogan regime signed a £100m deal with the UK government last year for fighter aircraft.
Meanwhile the regime continues to target the autonomous democratic federal LGBT-friendly Kurdish-run enclave of Rojava, one of the few rays of hope in this conflict. The suppression of religious minorities and forced Arabisation of newly taken territory accompanies Turkey’s intense political repression.
When critics of the government’s policy raise these issues, they are accused of changing the subject. But the government’s long-term alliances in the region - including its vile support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing of the people of Yemen - and this short-term operation are intimately connected. As Glen Rangwala argues in this issue, our policy in Syria is shaped significantly by the Trump administration’s need to isolate Iran.
What certainly won’t be part of the west’s response will be any activity that undermines the capacity of western businesses and banks to continue to profit from this conflict. The case of Soulieman Marouf - Assad’s London-based ‘fixer’ - illustrates this. When his assets were frozen by European authorities in 2012, the British government intervened to have the restrictions lifted. It’s also clear that components for chemical weapons were produced in Britain and sold to Syria even after the current war began.
Current UK sanctions against Russia can also be weighed in this context. The Tories tried to weaponise patriotism against Corbyn - again with the help of some right wing Labour MPs - despite the fact that it is Labour who are calling for real measures that could tackle the estimated $750m of Russian money laundered through London. Tory reluctance to tackle this is matched by Trump’s recent decision to overrule his advisors and drop financial sanctions against Russia.
Jeremy Corbyn’s approach has been to stand firmly for international law and continue defending human rights wherever they are being violated. Beyond this, we need international action against the arms trade and a commitment to accept more Syrian refugees. Short term, humanitarian aid is vital, but only a diplomatic solution involving all the powers involved in Syria will resolve this conflict.