Why the USA must reject British policy over Syria

by Nu’man Abd al-Wahid

One of the effects of the Obama presidency is that it has turned international warmongering on its head. The script, has been somewhat, flipped. During the George W. Bush era there was very little doubt who was perceived to be leading the breast-beating clamour for war. What is now clear and impossible to avoid is that the United Kingdom is assuming the lead in calling for more Western intervention in the Middle East. As such and like Libya, the British have been leading the calls for a United States led intervention in Syria.

In March 2012, in an interview with the historian Niall Ferguson, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, declared his “frustration” at the lack of interest in intervening in Syria. He had similarly declared his frustration when it did not seem the British were to be granted with an intervention in Libya.

Since Obama’s re-election Cameron has raised the verbal stakes in advocating intervention in Syria. Firstly, on the day of Obama’s historic re-election and on the back of peddling weapons to the Persian Gulf despots he may have attempted to usurp the natural publicity centred on the re-election of America’s first African-American President by claiming that he will encourage his “friend” Obama to intervene in Syria.

Secondly, in the following month Cameron rehashed the ‘inaction is not an option’ formulae to the Syrian conflict. This formulae dates back to the build up of the Iraq war in 2003 and was popularised by then vice-President Dick Cheney who in turn adopted it from the military historian Victor Davis Hanson.[1]

Thirdly, several days later Cameron was claiming that his government is leading the calls to review the arms embargo on Syria and therefore supply more weapons to the “rebels”. It is now acknowledged that the British have complained to the Obama administration for the latter preventing Qatar from sending more sophisticated weaponry to the “rebels”. It seems that Qatar is currently the local conduit for European strategies.

However, if the Obama administration heeds and acquiesces to Cameron’s advice for military intervention in Syria what can precedent teach us shall be the repercussions for the United States and the Middle East?

Let us begin with the most famous time the United States followed the British into a Middle East hotspot. In 1953, the British instigated an initiative to overthrow the democratically elected President of Iran, Muhammad Mosaddegh. The reason for this is because he had committed a gross crime. Specifically, denying a British corporation priority over Iran’s main natural resource earner, oil. It was only natural for the British elite, after 400 years of waging war and pillaging mankind, to suppose that Iran was in need of an imperialist corrective.

Before Mosaddegh, the British corporation, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) ran the show in controlling Iranian resources and handsomely reaped the profits. Up to 90% of profits were ploughed into the corporation while the Iranian nation was palmed off with whatever remained. Recognising that it needed assistance in re-establishing the natural imperialist order, i.e. other nations’ resources should be prioritised to the British, it successfully convinced the United States to assume leadership in a covert operation to topple Iranian democracy.[2]

The United States was ultimately roped into the British conspiracy after it was allowed to ‘dip its beak’ (as Funucci from the Godfather would say) in the profits of Iranian oil. The United States agreed to a 40% cut. Thereafter, Mosaddegh was overthrown and the Shah dictatorship began. And everyone lived happily ever after for the next 25 years with the United States becoming the main supporter of the Shah showering him with weaponry to repress his people and bestowing him with the appellation of “moderate.” But, of course, history intervened and the downtrodden masses overthrew the dictator as well as storm the United States embassy.

Decades of antagonism between the United States and Iran have since ensued all because of a venal and imperialist British initiative to safeguard its interests. The irony of it all was that the United States joined its former imperial master in overthrowing a government which only wanted independence from the United States’s former imperial master. By the way, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) was renamed British Petroleum (BP).

The rise of Arab Nationalism and specifically the Egyptian president Gamal Abd al-Nasser was also a threat to mainly British interest and specifically livelihood in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. British imperialism had previously happily exploited and looted Ireland, India, Africa and other parts of the world to its hearts content for centuries in order to provide its populace in the imperial metropolitan a relative good standard of living on the backs of millions of indigenous peoples.[3] It did not concern the governing British elite or its people that this standard of living caused millions to perish in famines in India and elsewhere. By the end of World War Two and especially after Indian independence it was the turn of Arabs to join the party and lavishly allow the British elite to wrench their imperial fangs into the natural resources of their lands. This was not lost on the United States.

In 1956, President Eisenhower acknowledged and accepted the fact the British would be impoverished without allowing for the British state to have priority on oil profits from the Persian Gulf.[4] The reason for this is because Eisenhower needed the British on side in America’s confrontations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. To contain the threat of Arab Nationalism to America’s ally, the British, political Islamism was employed to counter Nasser’s Arab Nationalism.

According to the Arab journalist and political biographer, Said Aburish, the United States enlisted into the Islamist strategy with the implementation of the Eisenhower doctrine in the late 1950’s.[5] Or as Professor Nathan Citino has argued in his book on U.S. Oil politics, “Eisenhower’s Islamic strategy did not emerge out of a vacuum.”[6] Indeed, Eisenhower’s “assumptions about the importance of Islam in the Cold War were far from original and reflected trans-Atlantic continuities in Middle Eastern expertise just as the U.S. inherited regional power from its European allies.”[7]

The reason it lacked originality is because the British had promoted Islamism and Islamic sectarianism in the inter-war period. In the Arabian peninsula, it was the British who initially armed the Saudi clan to military and geographically re-establish itself after being in exile for decades. In Egypt, it was the British that also identified the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920’s as a counterweight to calls for Egyptian independence. In India they advocated and campaigned on behalf of Muslim sectarianism in the 1930’s.

So when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it was this “Islamic strategy” that the United States adopted, to fight the Soviets. It was these same Islamists which specifically came out of this policy that were later held responsible for 9/11 atrocities in New York and Washington.

When Iraq in 1990 invaded Kuwait, a country literally drawn out of the sand by the British to prevent the proposed Berlin-Baghdad rail line having a terminal hub in the Gulf, the then American President, George H. Bush initially seemed to lean towards a peaceful solution. Or as he was later to write:

“I don’t know if I had yet determined that the use of force would be required. After all, the UN was still taking action and I hoped the matter could be ended peacefully with political and economic measures.”[8]

Not so Margaret Thatcher who quickly saw an opportunity to further extend Western influence in the Middle East. Even before the Iraq invasion, Thatcher was clamouring for NATO extension into the region on the basis that the European nations were too dependent on Middle Eastern oil and therefore with advances in military technology a threat to NATO may develop from outside NATO territory.

Or as her biographer, John Campbell wrote: “Her outrage about Iraq’s violation of Kuwaiti sovereignty, though sincere as far as it went, was at the same time a convenient cover for deeper national and western interests.” Douglas Hurd, the British foreign secretary claimed that Thatcher had influenced George H. Bush “quite substantially” in his decision.[9]

Even after the 1991 Iraq war ended, Thatcher complained that the war had ended too soon:

“The failure to disarm Saddam Hussain and to follow through the victory so that he was publicly humiliated in the eyes of his subjects and Islamic neighbours was a mistake which stemmed from the excessive emphasis placed right from the start on international consensus.”[10] And this was written before the appearance of the “neo-conservative” political appellation. On the other hand, George H. Bush had this to say:

“I still do not regret my decision to end the war when we did. I do not believe in what I call “mission creep.” Our mission, as mandated by the United Nations was clear: end the aggression. We did that.”[11]

After the war ended in February 1991 a stringent and vicious economic blockade was maintained which only ended with the war on Iraq in 2003. According to a war crimes tribunal held in Kuala Lumpar in November 2011, 3.3 million Iraqis and 750,000 children were killed as a result of sanctions and wars. A country was devastated, destroyed and millions of Iraqis orphaned, widowed and turned into internal and external refugees.

In all three cases, Iran in the 1950’s, the employment of “Islamic strategy” during the Cold War and the siege and wars on Iraq, the United States was perceived as the main culprit behind British initiated and supported policies. The reason for this is because ultimately it is the United States which takes the lead in military interventions with the British in supporting role. The people on the receiving end of a military intervention are not going to blame British lobbying and pressuring for an intervention, but the main military super-power which is dropping the bombs.

There is no reason to think that an American led intervention in Syria will produce a different outcome to the above precedents. Indeed, it is now widely acknowledged that the very “rebels” that are leading the armed opposition in Syria are more or less of the same ideology as the Islamist “jihadis” supported by the West in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.

Furthermore, a rejection of British calls for intervention in Syria will also provide the Obama administration with an opportunity to reject the Cheney neo-conservative-British imperialism axis for permanent war in the Middle East and even the wider world. Having recently and conclusively defeated the right-wing on the domestic front, is there any wisdom in accepting their strategies on foreign policy and specifically in Syria?


[1] Bob Woodward, “Plan of Attack”, (London: Simon and Schuster, 2004), pg 428-429

[2] Stephen Dorrill, “MI6”, (London : Forth Estate, 2000), pg. 558-599.

[3] Mike Davis, “Late Victorian Holocausts, El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World”, (London: Verso, 2002).

[4] David A. Nichols, “Eisenhower 1956, The President’s Year of Crises” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), pg.70 and pg 88.

[5] Said Aburish, Nasser, The Last Arab, (London:Duckworth, 2005), pg.128

[6] Nathan Citino, From Arab Nationalism to OPEC, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), pg.95

[7] ibid., pg.98

[8] George H. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, “A World Transformed”( New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1998) pg.333

[9] John Campbell, “Margaret Thatcher, Volume Two: The Iron Lady”, (London: Vintage Books, 2008), pg.664

[10] Margaret Thatcher, “The Downing Street Years”, (London: Harper Press, 2011), pg. 828

[11] George Bush, “All the Best: My Life in Letters and Other Writings.” (New York: Touchstone, 2000), pg. 514

9 comments on “Why the USA must reject British policy over Syria

  1. ‘Decades of antagonism between the United States and Iran have since ensued all because of a venal and imperialist British initiative to safeguard its interests.’

    Though the British had a material interest in deposing Mossadegh after he nationalised Iran’s oil, the United States had a wider regional interest in competition with Britain, by then a declining empire.

    It came to a head during the Suez Crisis, when the US effectively usurped Britain’s role in the region. After that point the US adopted a twin pillar strategy of exercising its control and influence in the region – utilising Iran under the Shah and Israel as its main allies.

    To deny America’s role in favour of an analysis clearly motivated by an anti-British animus is ahistorical.

    Britain has been a subservient partner to US imperialism since the end of the Second World War. The US did not need much persuading to gain US support and resources in the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953, especially not with the spectre of potential Soviet influence hanging over the region.

  2. John: Britain has been a subservient partner to US imperialism since the end of the Second World War.

    More since Suez when they learned the hardway up till then they were still in denial of the fact you state. The shock is still reverberating hence the strange mixture of subservience and resentment that characterises their discourse.

    Significant sections of the British ruling class still yearn for empire.

  3. ISO-SWP on said:

    You mentioned a while ago that you had some sauce on the ISO-SWP beef and its relationship to a financial dispute. Any chance you could reveal that now? I think it would be timely.

  4. Lawrence Shaw on said:


    Significant sections of the British ruling class still yearn for empire.

    This is absolutely true. It ties up with Gove’s rewriting of the history syllabus for schools – removal of most global references other than the World Wars, and an obsession with the days of Kings and Queens and British Empire – Lord Clive of India etc etc…

    It was interesting on Question Time to see that obnoxious contrarian Peter Hitchens tell the audience that the austerity drive was not a deliberate economic choice but the part of the fact that Britain “is a nation in decline”.

    Huge sections of the political establishment believe this absolutely. And their only solution is to hark back to the days we were “great” and try to conjure up some kind of new empire.

    Hence the burning desire to send our beleaguered economic conscripts to intervene militarily anywhere possible and the hilarious ratcheting up of nonsense tub-thumping over the Falklands.

    Given there is absolutely zero ideological vison to construct or grow anything useful at home with this government, the political masters instead cling to the belief that our sorry little nation taking sides and cheerleading violence on major global faultlines will somehow benefit our country in some way.

    It’s not helped by the many and alarmingly growing number of so-called socialists excitedly egging on as much foreign military intervention as possible in the fatuous notion of spreading democracy and human rights. Funny I don’t see many of them down the army recruitment office near me offering their no-doubt hugely effective services to the war efforts.

  5. SA: Significant sections of the British ruling class still yearn for empire.

    Yes, but with a deep understanding that their fortunes in this respect are inextricably linked to the Atlantic Alliance.

  6. John: Yes, but with a deep understanding that their fortunes in this respect are inextricably linked to the Atlantic Alliance.

    I sometimes wonder about the depth of that understanding.

    On the surface its something that has to be understood. If they want to relive imperial adventures they have to get the nod from the real power so in reality it means lobbying and fawning at the court of the POTUS. Where in truth they don’t count for that much.

    Underneath though strange currents flow; its relatively uncommon to read self declared members of the ‘political class’ harping on about how much former colonies benefitted from the empire or indeed wish the British had never left. Quite often this is combined with ‘punching above our weight’ nonsense. Objectively its delusional and yet the narrative persists presumably as some sort of comfort blanket. It bespeaks of a hunger to do it all again if only….. A sort of John Bull aisling.

    Lawrence is quite right too sections of the British Left have no problem with their own version of the imperial mission.

  7. Oh please on said:

    The article is a tendentious reading of events from someone whose previous posts have been fixated on Britain as driving force for imperialist interventions, pushing the Americans into doing so against their better judgement or even interest. One of those articles built up to the absurd claim that Stop the War targeted US imperialism and ignored British out of some concession to national chauvinism.

    This current article does not advance anyone’s understanding and is wrong. The government and state that pushed hardest for the Libyan war and has gone furthest in arguing for the most overt intervention in Syria is the French, which happens also to have prosecuted the Mali intervention.

    There are worse things than focussing on the role of Britain if you happen to be in Britain. But bending reality around that is not at all helpful. The anti-war movement and those aligned to it have come up with far better analyses than this.

  8. The yanks are calling the shots and have a clear objective to control the middle east and Africa states and the British politicians are doing what they are told, the fact that Obama and US admin got involved in the Euro Referendum situation and basically fired a shot across the bow and openly stated their hand in suggesting that they would prefer if we all stayed in the Euro just tells me the level of corruption and arrogance they have is unreal, and it seems it doesn’t matter who wins the next general election they will move ahead with the plans regardless…

  9. Pingback: Have Islamists Hijacked Syria’s Democratic Revolution?