The urge to beat the drums of war is strong. The ‘John Wayne’ call to draw a line in the sand is all too audible. Many among us have been brought up to believe in a world of black and white, of good against evil. This is, of course, a simplistic fantasy world.
Cameron, yesterday in parliament, in his call to arms to the British people, admitted many times over how things are, in fact, very much more complicated than we might imagine them to be. Nothing about engaging militarily in bombing Syria is appealing. Rather than see these complicated realities as reasons to stay out of it, however, Cameron twists the logic to imply that the lack of clarity about what we hope to achieve, about what we are fighting for and about who it is that we are trying to protect is all the more reason to take a deep breath and rush in regardless. What a perverse inclination that is! Without clear goals and a clear international consensus we should stay out of it
‘Quick, quick, do something, do something!’ is not a good reason to go to war. Britain is not under immediate threat, but if we enter the war we soon will be, make no mistake of that. Cameron is playing Russian Roulette with the lives of British people in calling for us to enter this war. We can do far more to increase security by spending billions on peace rather than on war.
Are there humanitarian reasons to enter the bombing campaign in Syria? Again, the situation is complicated. When it comes to feminist issues I am one of the first to stand up for the rights of women at home and across the world. The last thing I am in favour of is fundamentalism in any guise, Christian, Islamic or anything else. Personal empowerment, participatory culture, rights and freedoms, are all complex rather than simplistic goals, but I know disempowerment when I see it and it is nothing I would condone.
Equally, I am no outright pacifist. I believe there are times when one is justified in fighting in support of brutally oppressed people. That said, if we engage in this military alliance with Russia, our allies may well be aiming to kill and maim the very people we say we are fighting to support.
Syria, Russia and France aim to ‘degrade and destroy’, any and all opponents of the Syrian regime, while we say we are looking to give support to ‘boots on the ground’ (the Free Syrian Army). These are Syrian fighters who oppose IS but who also oppose Assad’s brutal regime. We hope this group of ‘moderate fighters’ will survive the bombing campaigns long enough to rise up and form a creditable, peaceful, stable, democratically inclusive government of Syria. It seems a very feint if not disingenuous hope.
Cameron makes it very clear that we are, for political reasons, not at liberty to say that we seek ‘regime change’, but if that is not what we are aiming for we are supporting the greater tyrants against the lesser tyrants. Russia and the Syrian government are enlisting us to assist in their aim to prop up a failing tyrannical puppet regime in Syria.
The government of Syria has used chemical weapons against its own people, killing many thousands times over the number of people killed by the marauding gangs of its rebel opponents, and destroying many more homes and livelihoods in the process. The difference is in the publicity, and in the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of the killings. If we buy into this war we are simply bowing to the logic of the publicity stunts, while the humanitarian objectives remain obscure, grimy, in fact rather repulsive, to say the least.
If this is a war of publicity then it is a war of how people respond to events. It is a war of how people think and feel about their life choices. It is a war of division or inclusion. It is a war about equity and justice. We defeat terrorism more effectively by removing its raison d’etre than by getting involved in more bloodshed. We will simply augment a fertile recruitment ground for terrorism if we bomb from the the air with no plan to fill the political vacuum with stable and fair governance for the people by the people.
On this point consider this; if I were to say I support ‘liberty and democracy’ and so I put in place a leader of my liking, would it not be reasonable to expect that leader to need external military support to stay in power? Is there not an inclination for a nation to feel that it has the duty, a right, even an obligation to determine its own culture and its own institutions? An externally imposed solution will never be a lasting solution. It will never achieve peace in the region.
This war will displace many people. Those who flee from the bombing campaigns will be destitute migrants on our door step. How we act, how we treat these people, will determine our national security as much as how many we kill in the war campaign. Orderly migration, founded on legality and empathy, will improve our humanitarian and our security objectives, but the more we bomb Syria the costlier that process is going to be.
Stepping up the bombing campaign in Syria is not really about our weapons and expertise, it is about selling off our allegiance. It is about nailing our flag to a post. Turkey, our ally, opposes Russia, resenting intrusion into its air space and its internal affairs, while France, another ally, supports Russia. So now, already, our allies are bombing each other, whether by accident or design. Surely this is a sign that getting involved is the very last thing we should be doing.
We should announce that our allegiance in this matter is not for sale. Let us campaign for truth and justice and spend money on peace not war. This is a much better way, in fact the only way, to achieve our humanitarian and security objectives.
The leader of the Labour Party is the clearest anti-war voice in the country. The pro-war brigades within and outside his own party are hell-bent on dis-crediting him. We will lose the one voice prepared to take on the government and listen to the people if we do not speak up for the Labour leader before it is too late. We must not let the government frog march us into a pointless war with dubious objectives on a false premise once more. Military involvement in the region in the past has done far more harm than good. It is time to draw a line in the sand for peace not war.