Intervention in Syria is a complicated problem. One the one hand, it involves taking sides with Trump and a gaggle of western powers whose previous interventions in the region have resulted in catastrophic damage. However, if you take the other side, you are effectively saying that chemical weapons and the mass slaughter of your own population poses no punishment or international reaction, thus allying with Assad and Putin and setting a horrific international precedent. Not to mention the potential (and very real) risks to the Syrian people themselves.
I can see why people are not on the fence about this. One side feels that Assad and Putin definitively need to be punished to uphold some kind of resemblance of international justice, yet concurrently it’s not clear how much of an impact intervention would have. However, it would certainly lead to deaths on the ground. Not to mention that the escalation of a conflict with Russia, which has never been as high or as risky since the end of the Cold War in 1991, may occur if a Russian jet or military base is hit by Western rockets.[pullquote]
We need to find a way to send a clear message to Assad and Putin which helps protects the lives of Syria’s most vulnerable[/pullquote]
What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t the time for parochial side-taking on the issue, which people from all differing political strands seem concerned with. Instead, we need to find a way to send a clear message to Assad and Putin which helps protect the lives of Syria’s most vulnerable people at the same time. This should have been discussed in Parliament. By rushing to meet Trump’s demands Theresa May is effectively putting our foreign policy in the laps of the United States.
What is clear is that this issue is complicated – but what this really requires is reflection and a degree of impartiality, something which Parliament can do better than May and her Cabinet. What we must do is acknowledge this especially complex situation and not look for easy one-size-fits-all solutions to unknot tricky moral and political dilemmas.
On the night of 13th April 2018, the Air and Naval forces of the United Kingdom, United States, and France launched a series of air strikes on suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria, and a national and international diplomatic hornets-nest was kicked wide open. The strikes were in response to two ‘alleged’ (stated for legal, not moral reasons) chemical attacks, one on the ex-spy Sergei Skripal within the UK, and one by the dictator Bashar Al-Assad on his own people in Douma, Syria.
Some have stated the evidence should have been gathered first, and UN authorization should have been given. Which, due to Russia, would not have been given. Regardless of the international legal implications of the strikes, there are some clear conclusions we can draw from the action. Firstly, the Cold War looks to be the latest unwanted eighties reboot to make a return. Secondly, Russia has become even more emboldened by the lack of effective international action (the expulsion of diplomats by our allies is a good show of friendship but will have little effect). Thirdly, Assad must not be a part of any potential peace-deal and must face international justice. Russia, once again, will make this difficult.[pullquote]
The Cold War looks to be the latest unwanted eighties reboot to make a return[/pullquote]
At a time when the world’s leading bodies united to call out what amounted to a war crime by Russia, the Labour leader refused to do so. He claimed that more evidence was needed, and that the UK should not provoke Russia. That time has passed. Those who doubt should re-assess their understanding of ‘Occam’s Razor’. Russia is doing all it can to disrupt Western democracies, and they will continue to do so indefinitely. But what cannot be forgiven is Russia’s continued support for the barbarous Assad regime, a man who has shown no respect for human life. The air-strikes on Syria will have no effect on the ground, but their symbolic value is important. May acted without the consent of parliament, showing contempt for our system. Corbyn’s odd views on the former Soviet Union leave voters to question what action he would take if he was Prime Minister. Domestically, there are no winners from this action. If Russia’s intention is to undermine the stability of Western democracies, in the UK at least, they have done so.
Here are some things to consider before you blindly believe this intervention is well-motivated or practised.
1. The United Nations Office for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons were going to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons, but we bombed the country just before the investigation was due.
2. Western allies have been backing extremist islamist groups in Syria, often described as “moderate rebels”, such as the White Helmets, who have been responsible for atrocities comparable to ISIS. Some rebel groups have been responsible for the use of chemical weapons – we cannot assume Assad used these weapons without evidence.
3. Assad is going to win the war without intervention that actually amounts to anything. Of course, occupation is off the table because of the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Intervention in Libya also amounted to the destruction of the country. None of the military intervention options able to achieve anything change the kind of bloodshed Assad is inflicting, except the West would be doing it instead.[pullquote]
Let’s care about human suffering for its own sake, not just when it’s relevant to existing ambitions[/pullquote]
4. If there are casualties, civilians blown apart by western bombs isn’t somehow more acceptable than civilians choked with Sarin gas.
5. Bombing campaigns invariably increase the shares of bomb manufacturers. Theresa May’s husband manages the trust funds of companies who have directly profited from the recent western bombings. Quelle surprise.
6. Instead of using killing machines as symbolic gestures, we should protect what is left. The democratic Kurds who fought off ISIS in Syria need our support as they face completely unprovoked bombings from the autocratic Turkish government – our policy is to ignore the Kurds as they are ethnically cleansed. Meanwhile, we bomb and we bomb, and then reject asylum to the refugees we create.
Playing little games with bombs and missiles to position with Russia, to make politicians look big and strong in the tabloids, and to inflate the value of the military-industrial complex, is sad and pathetic. Let’s care about human suffering for its own sake, not just when it’s relevant to existing ambitions.
Last modified: 29th April 2018