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Air strikes against Syria: case based on emotion and hubris

Received from Steve Beauchampé today:

“Don’t do stupid stuff.” was Barack Obama’s foreign policy advice. The British Government clearly wasn’t listening.

It is highly probable that in the coming days the House of Commons will vote decisively in favour of the UK extending air strikes against Islamic State into Syria.

david cameron lecternWithin hours of the vote Prime Minister David Cameron will likely appear, standing behind his big lectern, solemnly informing the nation that military action has begun. And yet another futile British middle-eastern military gesture will be underway.

Cameron’s case for Britain joining air strikes against Syria is based on emotion and hubris, not rationale.

  • We must go to war because France wants us to,
  • because Cameron remains bitter and frustrated at losing the vote to bomb the sovereign government of Syria in 2013,
  • because without bombing Britain might have a lesser voice in international talks to resolve the Syrian civil war,
  • and because Cameron can’t quite play at being Churchill if we’re not a fully paid up member of the fight club.

Speaking in the Commons last week Cameron claimed that British air strikes would help pave the way for a coalition of around 70,000 ground troops, consisting of Kurds, Sunnis, tribal groups and militias opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to defeat Islamic State.

“the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

The Prime Minister, and the Tory hawks that bray support for his arguments, has either forgotten, or chooses to ignore, that this is precisely the strategy that failed so calamitously in Libya in 2011. Then Cameron assured us that ousting the Gadaffi regime from Benghazi and eastern Libya would result in pro-democracy groups taking power. It never happened; overrun by jihadi militias, Libya is now a failed state and home to a flourishing Islamic State franchise and those democracy campaigners that have not been killed or joined the exodus of refugees are either in hiding or lying very low indeed. As Albert Einstein said: “the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Despite such a sage warning from history, and the repeated advice from respected military strategists that his plan is unlikely to work, the Prime Minister persists, blindly ignoring the fact that the supposed 70,000 troops he is relying on to do the fighting for him are drawn from around 80 different religious and tribal factions, often divided in their objectives, and in some instances already fighting each other. They include organisations which themselves are accused of committing atrocities and other human rights violations. And Cameron expects these disparate groups to put aside their differences and come to the aid of the west just as a $500m US programme to train and arm moderate opponents of Islamic State and Assad has been closed down after failing spectacularly.

“England expects” poorly trained, equipped and battle weary locals to undertake the combat, be captured, tortured and executed

Yet for all his blarney about the evils of Islamic State and their threat to Britain, the Prime Minister’s commitment to defeating the group is at best half-hearted. Cameron argued last week that Britain could not outsource its national security countries such as France and the United States, yet terrified of the consequences on public opinion and morale of British casualties, he is unwilling to deploy British troops to fight Islamic State, preferring instead to outsource the fighting, capture and deaths to others. So Britain sends in unmanned drones and RAF fighter planes flying at a safe height out of reach of Islamic State, whilst expecting sometimes poorly trained, equipped and battle weary locals to undertake the combat, be captured, tortured and executed. This when the very existence of Islamic State is partially due to the calamitous mess created by Britain’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 (something Cameron fully supported and continues to defend) and our subsequent backing of Nouri al-Maliki’s fatally divisive Iraqi Presidency (2006-2014). How very colonial, how very imperialistic.

Further, David Cameron omits from his equation President Assad’s army and the considerable military support it receives from both Russia and Iran. Because if Islamic State is defeated in Syria then Assad’s forces will probably have proved pivotal and will expect to fill the subsequent power vacuum. What will the Prime Minister do then, as Assad’s forces retake Aleppo and Raqqa, buoyed by Russian air power?

Yet defeating Islamic State may be wishful thinking. Britain has been bombing them in Iraq for fifteen months during which time they’ve taken and held the country’s second largest city, Mosul and relinquished precious little territory elsewhere in the country. Talk of relentless attacks on the group by successive governments, from Jordan, Japan and now France have proved to be largely bluster, and transferring some of Britain’s limited military capability from Iraq to Syria is unlikely make any discernable difference there. Islamic State’s leaders long ago developed strategies to limit the impact of missile strikes, not least on themselves.

Add to this the strong possibility that attacking Islamic State substantially increases the likelihood of radicalising a small core of British and European-based Muslims and fuelling support for a group that has proved itself immensely skilful at propaganda. With this comes an increased likelihood of a successful large-scale terror attack in the UK. Given that the Prime Minister’s argument for attacking Islamic State in Syria is to protect British citizens it is incongruous of him to dismiss the increased likelihood of an IS inspired United Kingdom terror attack as a result. Were he to be honest he’d say that the loss of innocent British lives is a sacrifice that he’s prepared to make for the greater good… and sorry if it’s you or yours.

If we had listened less to Blair and Cameron, and more to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the wise heads of the SNP . ..

Since Tony Blair signed Britain up to join what became the war on terror in 2001 the threat from Islamic extremism has increased enormously. The Middle East is now a considerably more dangerous place than it was, with several failed states and lawless regions, whilst the scale and regularity of planned terror attacks in Europe and the western world has risen exponentially. If we had listened less to Blair and Cameron, and more to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the wise heads of the SNP, things might not have got so bad.

The grand coalition of Arab nations that were to play a leading rôle soon melted away

When the bombing campaign against Islamic State began, the promise was of a grand coalition of Arab nations that would play a leading rôle. They soon melted away, perhaps knowing that it would not be long before the usual western allies would step in, allowing their collective ambivalence to Islamic State to continue. Canada has recently withdrawn from the coalition whilst savvier states such as Germany, Spain, China and India recognise the folly and the depressingly predictable pointlessness of constant military intervention in other region’s wars and so keep well away. In contrast Britain’s Prime Minister and those politicians who so readily support him can be sure only that yet again they will be proved wrong, even though most will deny against all evidence that this is so.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that there are much more effective measures that Britain could take to combat the horrendous ideology and effectiveness of Islamic State.

If a group of activist civilians working under the guise of Anonymous can quickly disrupt Islamic State’s internet and social media presence then one wonders just what our own national security services could achieve with their resources. Or what Britain could contribute if its fully used its expertise and leverage as a global financial centre to collaborate with others in tracing Islamic State funding and heavily sanctioning those who knowingly assist in its financing. Or most crucially the progress Britain could make by applying diplomatic pressure on those whose ambivalent attitude (or worse) towards Islamic State has helped keep the war going, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey.

But then none of these measures would make for good newspaper headlines or compelling television. Much better to watch British warplanes blowing stuff to smithereens on the 10 O’clock, sit back, puff your jowls out and feel Churchillian.  

Migrants? Many are refugees escaping from countries which the British government has helped to destabilise

According to the UN, the overwhelming majority of these people are escaping war. The largest group are fleeing Syria, a country in which an estimated 220,000 to more than 300,000 people have been killed during its appalling and escalating war. Many others come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia – all places from which people are commonly given asylum.

As a reader reminded us today, refugees have rights under The 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol (extract below) and migrants do not – so ‘relabelling’ is advantageous to states who wish to avoid their legal obligations.

unhcr2 refugee rights

A very large number of refugees are fleeing from unimaginable misery and danger and a smaller number of people are trying to escape the sort of poverty that drives some to desperation.

Colin Yeo and other members of the immigration team at London’s Garden Court Chambers set up a blog to cover these subjects, with several graphs, one of which shows how very far from the truth is the media/state conveyed impression that Britain is number one destination and is being ‘swamped’..

resettle 2syrian refugees

So far this year, nearly 340,000 refugees have crossed Europe’s borders. A large number, but still only 0.045% of Europe’s total population of 740 million.

Contrast that with Turkey, which hosts 1.8 million refugees from Syria alone, Lebanon, in which there are more than one million Syrians and even Iraq, struggling with its own ‘war’, is home to more than 200,000 people who have fled its neighbour.

As Barry Malone on Al-Jazeera says: “There are no easy answers and taking in refugees is a difficult challenge for any country but, to find solutions, an honest conversation is necessary”.

But much of that conversation is shaped – distorted – by the media

For reasons of accuracy, the director of news at Al Jazeera English, Salah Negm, has decided that the word migrant will no longer be used in this context. Instead, where appropriate, they will say ‘refugee’.

The wording is correct but – terminology sorted – how can these huge destabilisations be redressed?

 

Gaza 2: poor international coverage of worldwide demonstrations against Israel’s actions – 34 sites searched

 But handsome coverage by Israel’s i24, banned in Israel

i24 logoA find! i24News, based in Jaffa and broadcast worldwide in English, French, and Arabic, is not available in Israel by Hot’s cable network or by satellite broadcaster DBS Satellite Services (1998) Ltd. The protests were covered well, see more here. Despite its apparently objective stance, PM Benjamin Netanyahu has refused a request by owner Patrick Drahi – a ‘Franco-Israeli’ telecommunications tycoon – to allow i24 News to be broadcast in Israel.

The Washington Times headlined news of a French demonstration – but only emphasising violence during the protests in Paris. There was no mention of US and actions elsewhere.

But Iran’s Press TV directed us to one of America’s protests: “More than a thousand pro-Palestinian protesters have taken to the streets in the US Colorado state capital of Denver to condemn Israel’s ongoing onslaught against the Gaza Strip. The demonstrators gathered on Saturday at the Colorado State Capitol building, calling for an end to the Israeli attacks on the besieged coastal enclave. The gathering was followed by a march through Denver, during which the protesters held protest signs and Palestinian flags and chanted, “free, free Palestine, the occupation is a crime.”

Though Colorado’s Newsday covered Gaza’s plight admirably it remained strangely silent about the demonstrations in its own state.

New Zealand’s Scoop covered events in Gaza at length but did not refer to any demonstrations.

Times of India: appeared to cover the Kashmir demonstrations because of police killing of a demonstrator.

Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News carried a full account of the demos and a strong condemnation by Turkish leaders: “Turkish leaders have strongly condemned an Israeli ground operation into Gaza that has killed scores of civilians, declaring the Israeli administration – in another article – as a “threat to international peace . . .

turkey gaza demo“Israel advised its citizens on July 19 not to travel to Turkey, citing “the public mood” after heated protests there against Israel’s ground offensive into Gaza. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Israelis should “avoid non-essential visits” to Turkey – once Israel’s closest regional ally – or be especially vigilant and steer clear of anti-Israel demonstrations”.

Constructive moves by sensible Switzerland

 swiss gaza demo

Swiss Info, after reporting on Gaza at length and covering the Zurich demo, announced that the Swiss foreign ministry is holding exploratory talks for an international conference on the respect of humanitarian law in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian authorities. The ministry confirmed it had received a letter from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, urging Switzerland, as a depository state of the Geneva Conventions, to convene a meeting of the signatory states.

Should the British government stand aside from the United States if it had planned to destabilise Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran?

Dr Nafeez Ahmed writes about the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises in the Guardian.In 2001 he founded and directs the Institute for Policy Research & Development, based in London, which includes on its advisory board Dr. Johan Galtung. His special report on Syria, summarised in the Guardian, opens with the subject of chemical weapons and moves on to ask:

So what is this unfolding strategy to undermine Syria, Iran and so on, all about?

First scroll down and listen to the video of the (admittedly volatile) retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, speaking in 2007 about plans for the ‘former Soviet client states’ :

gen wesley clarke video

Glenn Greenwald summarises Clark’s allegation that a memo from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years.  No link was given but he might well be referring to this Wikileaks file.

Clark said that a Pentagon officer familiar with the memo told him, “we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.”

In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources”.

Much of the strategy currently at play in the region was candidly described in the Rand Corporation’s 2008 U.S. Army-funded report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War, which noted that:

rand logo“The economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource . . . The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized… For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources… The region will therefore remain a strategic priority, and this priority will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war.”

Read more here about the document’s thinking on:

  • ‘Divide and Rule’ policies, turning Salafi-jihadist groups against each other so as to dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.
  • U.S. capitalizing on the ‘Sustained Shia-Sunni Conflict’ by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world….
  • and so empowering al-Qaeda jihadists, focusing their activity on internal sectarian rivalry rather than targeting the U.S.
  • The U.S.’s key allies and enemies increasing vulnerability to the converging crises of rapidly rising populations, a ‘youth bulge’, internal economic inequalities, political frustrations, sectarian tensions and water shortages.

Ahmed outlines Syrian ‘offences’ – pipeline politics

Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field . . . and pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria . . . read more here.

pipeline iran to syria

Israel also has a direct interest . . .

“In 2003, just a month after the commencement of the Iraq War, U.S. and Israeli government sources told The Guardian of plans to “build a pipeline to siphon oil from newly conquered Iraq to Israel” bypassing Syria . . .”

Surprise, surprise . . .

“All the parties intervening in Syria’s escalating conflict – the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel on one side providing limited support to opposition forces, with Russia, China and Iran on the other shoring up Assad’s regime – are doing so for their own narrow, competing geopolitical interests”.

Ahmed’s position: “What is beyond doubt is that Assad is a war criminal whose government deserves to be overthrown. The question is by whom, and for what interests?”

Dr Ahmed has advised the British Foreign Office, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the UK Defence Academy, the Metropolitan Police Service on delivery of the Home Office’s Channel Project, and the UK Parliamentary Inquiry into UK counter-terrorism strategy. He has also been a consultant for projects funded by the US State Department and the UK Department for Communities & Local Government. In 2005, he testified in US Congress on Western security policy toward al-Qaeda.