It’s too easy to be cynical about politics and politicians, and so when something out of the ordinary happens, we often dismiss it. This week’s British parliamentary vote against joining an American attack on Syria was historic, and to be celebrated. It established both that Britain can be independent of the US, and that we can step back from a war that seemed inevitable.
Until the vote, the whole situation stank of the 2002-2003 period during which Bush and Blair concocted their illegal attack on Iraq. Back then, we could see that the war was unnecessary. We could see the lies being created before our very eyes (Brits at least – Americans took several more years to realise they had been scammed). We knew, at least six months before the war that the decision had already been made. We marched in record numbers, but it was futile: Blair dragged us into the war against our will. He destroyed his political career as a result, but earned himself millions in “consultancy” fees from those who had benefited from the war.
Now, for the moment, our democracy has proven it can stand up against war-greedy corporations, the demands of the US Empire, and the need for military and intelligence “communities” to justify their own dubious and expensive existences. However cynical we may be about our democratic representatives, we should applaud and support them at this moment. The vote against war was a brave moment for Parliament.
“But”, comes the response, “what about the people of Syria”? It’s an important question, and a hard one to answer, but while considering the answer, we should remind ourselves of some important facts.
1. We’re Not The Good Guys
This is hard for Europeans to recognise, and even harder for Americans, who live in a propaganda bubble that North Korea would be proud of. It’s a mantra we need to remember. We (the West) are the bad guys. In the past few centuries, we have committed crimes and atrocities beyond count.
The three biggest warmongers today – UK, France, USA – are the worst of the worst, and have been for decades (in America’s case) or centuries (in the case of Britain and France). At the very least, tens of millions of people have been slaughtered by these three nations in their self-serving grabs for power and resources. We shouldn’t be distracted by the fact that the centre of Western power has moved from Paris and London to Washington. It’s the same imperialistic drive, the same European tribal instincts and allegiances at work.
These three powers between them have chewed up the rest of the planet. From India to Algeria, Colombia to Lebanon, Vietnam to Indonesia, Guatemala to Iraq, we have directly or indirectly caused misery on a global scale. There is only one significant moment in modern history where we have been on the right side: World War II. That was the exception, not the rule – and even then, we were hardly squeaky-clean. WWII set the stage for American imperialism. Better perhaps than German imperialism, but not to its millions of victims.
One more time: we’re not the good guys. Whoever should be leading an intervention to help the Syrian people, it should not be us. Sending Britain, France and America into Syria is like sending child rapists to run a nursery.
2. We Don’t Do Humanitarian Intervention
A brief look at modern history will kill the idea that we are prepared to spend billions of dollars in warfare for the good of foreign civilian populations. There are minor exceptions: interventions in African conflicts are cheap in dollars and lives, and these are easy to win because any opposition will be poorly trained and armed. The UK’s intervention in Sierra Leone was against a few thousand hungry gangsters holed up outside Freetown. France’s interventions in Ivory Coast and Mali were quick and easy. All three of these interventions were designed to support existing leaders against rebels, not to change regimes; and they were self-serving too, preserving old colonial ties.
Besides these, our behaviour speaks for itself. The biggest war since WWII has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we have left the UN to deal with that, despite slaughters and reports of 50 rapes per hour taking place at times. Ditto in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands were killed. Our “allies” in Sri Lanka are reported to have slaughtered 40,000 Tamils in 2009, and herded hundreds of thousands more into camps. Mass rape is reported. We tut-tut and keep trading with them. Our new friends in Burma are averting their gaze while nationalists slaughter and rape members of the Rohingya Muslim minority. And we line up to sign oil deals there.
While we invaded Iraq to “deal with the evil dictator Saddam”, we continued to partner with leaders who were as bad, or even worse. While Saddam was torturing and killing his own people, the British ambassador Craig Murray was warning that in Uzbekistan, the leader Islam Karimov was boiling dissidents to death. Murray was fired for criticising a friend of the war on terror.
3. Syria Is Next To Iran and Israel
Amidst all the Syria noise, you might have forgotten that for the past decade or so, Iran has been “months away from developing a nuclear weapon”. The war party has been trying to justify an attack on Iran (one of the world’s biggest oil producers) for many years. Even world-class neo-con liars have found it hard to persuade anybody that a war on Iran might be necessary. In 2008, as he was leaving office, Bush was still trying to persuade the public that Iran was a threat. An attack on Syria would at the very least destabilise Iran, which is already suffering from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on its doorstep. A friendly regime in Syria would provide another good launch point for a future attack on Iran.
Meanwhile, Israel would love to see its Middle Eastern enemies weakened and broken. Israel is still occupying the Golan Heights, Syrian land that was taken and occupied during the 1967 war. Israel appears to have no intention of letting the land return to Syria, and a weakened Syria would allow Israel to finalise its land grab. In reality, this is already happening: in February this year, Israel granted an oil-drilling license in the Golan Heights to a US company with links to Dick Cheney, one of the chief gangsters involved in the Iraq war. This is an illegal move: international law does not recognise the land, or the oil, as belonging to Israel.
4. What’s The Big Deal With Chemical Weapons Anyway?
Obama’s stipulation that use of chemical weapons in Syria would be the last straw is weird and arbitrary, and reminds me of nothing more than Bill Hicks’ “pick up the gun” sketch. The line appears to have been drawn solely for the purpose of claiming it had been crossed. I don’t know whether Assad has used chemical weapons or not: the man seems perfectly capable of doing so. But likewise, the US is perfectly capable of telling massive lies in order to justify new wars, as demonstrated in both Vietnam and Iraq.
To use chemical weapons would be horrendous, but far less so than many acts of the US, British and French empires. Assad would also have to excel in evil to beat the murderous behaviour of the US in Iraq and so many other places. America is now known to have supported Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, and used vast amounts of depleted uranium (and perhaps other substances) which have led to many birth defects in Iraq. In other words: even if Assad is a murderous bastard, several recent US presidents have been far worse. Whatever Assad has done, to allow a US attack could only make things worse at every level.
So What Now?
The Syrian civil war is a reality. Mankind only has one tool to deal with such situations: the United Nations. It may not be perfect, but we have nothing else. The UN must be empowered and trusted to do whatever it can to help refugees, protect civilians and try to end the conflict. The American, British and French should stay as far away as possible – except, possibly, to supply resources to a UN peacekeeping operation. There is no quick and easy answer to Syria, and a US attack is not even an answer at all – it would be fuel added to the fire. Bullying the UN Security Council into backing yet another US war is not the same as allowing the UN to deal with the situation.
And if the West truly has billions of dollars to burn, peace can be bought far more cheaply than a war which can only increase instability in the Middle East, and lead to more terrorist attacks both there and here.
The US is trying to broaden and continue its endless, pointless war on terror. We can be proud that the British Parliament has just made that task a little more difficult. Obama wars are no better than Bush, Reagan or Nixon wars. At least if America goes to war against Syria, this time we can try to ensure they go alone, and are exposed as the gangsters they are, and have been since the 1950s.