Proof that the British political class hasn’t learned anything after Iraq came with David Cameron’s ludicrous assertion that there are 70,000 moderate rebels fighting in Syria. It was an outright fabrication to rank with Blair’s sexed up dossier on Saddam’s WMD, which the then prime minister asserted could be launched against Britain within 45 minutes.
We know Cameron’s claim is fiction because as far back as 2012 the US Defense Intelligence Agency produced a classified intelligence report which identified that, “The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” This was a full two years before ISIS/Daesh exploded across the region at the beginning of 2014.
The Prime Minister’s assertion was made as part of an increasingly desperate attempt by him and his supporters to win support for British airstrikes which every military expert agrees will have no appreciable impact.
Make no mistake, crushing this menace of ISIS must be the priority of all right-thinking people, with the only question one of how not if. It is a priority which makes the cognitive dissonance and contradictions that have underpinned the West’s actions and policy towards the conflict in Syria all the more grievous, ensuring we have only helped to prolong it, along with the ability of ISIS to operate. Here the equivalence that continues to be drawn between the secular government of Bashar al-Assad and this sectarian death cult is not just fallacious it is utterly and wholly obscene.
No sentient being would compare the Syrian president to Nelson Mandela. But comparing him to Hitler is even less credible. He leads a secular government under which the rights of Syrian minorities are upheld and protected, a government that still enjoys the support of the majority of Syrians and a government whose survival in 2015 is indistinguishable from the country’s survival. The alternative to Assad at this point – the only alternative – is Syria being turned into a mass grave of said minorities as it descends into an abyss of mass murder and slaughter that will make the status quo seem like child’s play by comparison. The Assad government can be negotiated with, ISIS cannot, and as bad as anybody believes Assad is he is not in the business of planting bombs on passenger aircraft or sending death squads to massacre British tourists in Tunisia or civilians in Beirut, Paris or anywhere else.
Attributing the refugee crisis to Assad, or claiming the majority of civilians who’ve been killed have been killed by his military, comes to us straight from the regime change playbook. We heard the same propaganda in the run up to the war in Iraq in 2003 and also in the run-up to NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. Both countries are now failed states as a direct consequence of Western military intervention.
Making the same catastrophic mistake again would be a crime that history will not forgive.
While crashing into the third Arab country since 9/11 may titillate the Churchillian sensibilities of the British ruling class, it will do little when it comes to defeating ISIS and ending the conflict. Indeed, given the recent incident of a Russian jet being shot down by Turkish F16s the risks involved in throwing British aircraft into the mix are self evident. If the Americans, who’ve been bombing ISIS (at least so they’ve been telling us) in Syria for the best part of a year, have failed to make any appreciable difference, what makes David Cameron and his Labour supporters believe Britain’s handful of fighter-bombers will or can?
There is a glaring need for the West to coordinate its efforts with the Russians and the Syrians, who are engaged in the very joint air and ground campaign every military expert agrees is the only way to crush ISIS/Daesh. However miltary action is not by itself enough. Confronting the murky relationship that exists between ISIS and Western allies in the region is also now non-negotiable.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia in particular have been at the heart of supporting the medieval fanatacism that recently exploded onto the streets of Paris. In the case of the former, without Turkey’s Syrian border being tantamount to a revolving door for ISIS fighters, materiel, and arms to pass through, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Nor is it anymore a wild claim to make that Turkey, elements within Turkey, have actively facilitated the trade in stolen Iraqi and Syrian oil that has funded their operations and so-called caliphate. Here we are entitled to ponder the question of whether Turkey’s real motive in taking the extraordinary step of shooting down a Russian jet was because Russian airstrikes had begun targeting the huge convoys of trucks transporting this oil towards Turkey’s border?
As for the Saudis, the fanatacism and medievalism which underpins ISIS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria is indistinguishable from the Wahhabi Sunni doctrine that bears the imprimatur of state religion in Riyadh. A major crux of this issue has been the Wahhabisation of Sunni Islam that has led to the normalisation and legitimisation of sectarianism. The Saudis have used their oil money to fund the building of mosques and other projects across the Muslim world, all with the aim of asserting the dominance of this particularly extreme literalist form of Sunni Islam. This influence must also be challenged.
Until Britain, the United States, and other Western governments are willing to deal with the role of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia in fomenting this crisis, they are not serious when it comes to defeating ISIS and the wider issue of the perverse ideology that drives it.
This brings me to what I consider is the real motive behind British airstrikes in Syria. They are not primarily about crusing ISIS. Instead they have been undertaken with the objective of establishing an overt British military presence in the country with a view to the post-ISIS settlement and regime change in Damascus. In this respect they rank with Suez in their perfidious opportunism, evidence that just as 9/11 was used as a pretext to unleash the war on Iraq and regime change in Baghdad, the atrocities of Paris are being used as a pretext vis-a-vis Syria and regime change in Damascus.
As for those 70,000 moderates, the only place they are to be found is in the ranks of the non sectarian Syrian Arab Army, made up of Alawites, Sunnis, Druze, and Christians fighting for their homes, their people, and their country.