A vote in parliament is not an essential prerequisite for going to war, but since Blair’s war against Iraq in 2003 it has become the norm to make these decisions by parliamentary vote in the House of Commons. Less than two years ago, in 2013, parliament was asked to unleash British military might against Assad’s government in Syria. Yesterday we voted to commence air strikes against Assad’s opponents. How can we have switched our allegiance so quickly from one side to the other?
Both sides are heinous, imprisoning people without charge and summarily executing them more or less at will. About a quarter of the Syrian population has fled in terror from Assad’s brutally repressive regime. Assad has killed more of his own people than IS/Daesh has ever managed to kill. Yet we have piled in on the opposite side, fighting at least some of Assad’s opponents for him.
We declare that the air strikes are in support not of Assad, but of rebels on the ground. These rebels are not IS/Daesh, but they are not very different from them. They are not interested in fighting IS/Daesh, but in fighting for themselves and against Assad. In terms of Jihadi violence and lack of respect for human rights, they may be as bad or worse than IS/Daesh. They are also weak and dispersed across the country. So these are the supposed ‘friends’ on whom we will rely once we have reined our military might on Syria from the air.
These dispersed bands of rebels can be expected to take advantage of the opportunity we give them to survive in the political vacuum we will create in Syria. These newly emboldened ‘friendly troops on the ground’ will benefit from our air strikes and from any other support we give them, be it weapons, training, expertise or humanitarian assistance, but will they then be in any position to form a stable, functioning government? It is extremely unlikely that this military action will lead to an inclusive political settlement any time soon. So in the chaos that we create with more bombing in the region monstrous forces are unleashed, forces in fact no better, and quite possibly far worse, than what we have now.
Having declined to attack Assad in 2013, and now, ostensibly, not wishing to side with him, we now rely on rebels many of whom have the backing of the Saudis. The Saudi government is also known for imprisoning individuals without trial, for beheadings, for stoning women (but not men) for infidelity. The Saudis also are our very big trading partners, we are the biggest supplier of their arms and we honour their royal family by flying our national flag at half-mast when their king dies. The people of Britain did not call for this level of homage to the Saudis. One must wonder what the dividends may be to warrant such an unprecedented level of grace and favour to a country with values are so very different from our own.
Cameron has been at pains to say that the decision to step up war efforts in Syria is difficult and that the facts and the outcomes are unclear and unpredictable. The focus on unpredictability appears to excuse Blair for the ‘dodgy dossier’ speech to parliament in 2003. Unfortunately the Chilcot enquiry has been inexcusably delayed, if not overtly and deliberately suppressed. The fact is, however, that we went to war afraid of the WMD and 45mins ‘strike time’ Blair told us about in parliament. As it turned out all that was completely untrue, though the Chilcot enquiry is still not available to argue the case for us.
If Blair were in jail today Cameron might be thinking twice before telling us about the ‘Bogus battalions’ of helpful, non-jihadi fighters waiting for our support in our fight against IS/Daesh. As it stands Cameron feels free to rest his case for air strikes on the existence of moderate rebel fighters, though the Chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee, Julian Lewis, said their existence was not well-founded, and that the case for air strikes against Syria has not been made.
Our leaders act in tandem no matter which party they come from. ‘Our enemy’s enemy is our friend’ only works until they rise up against us, knowing how morally bankrupt we have allowed ourselves to become. We adopt this line of thinking at our peril. To say this is a humanitarian war effort or one designed to improve our security seems the greatest untruth of all. All I can think of today is the terrible terrible shame of yesterday’s vote in parliament. Yet more war. What have we done?