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Bombing Syria: The politics of despair

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History is about to complete another grim full circle. Just as it did in 2003, Britain is about to sleepwalk into another ill advised ‘war’ based on a false premise.

In 2003 we were urged to throw our weight behind the invasion of Iraq. This was on the basis that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and could launch them imminently.

We now know that this was at best ill informed or at worst a lie paid for by up to 123,000 Iraqi civilians, almost 5,000 American soldiers and 200 British service personnel. Figures differ, but the total death toll could actually be much higher. Some sources, such as the Lancet, suggest that as many as  655,000 people died as a direct or indirect result of the war, while others claim the figure is closer to 1.2 million.

Those who marched us blindly into that war anxiously await the publication of the Chilcot report. They may well be damned by its findings. You would think they would be laying low right now. Instead some of them seem just as eager to enter the fray as they ever were.

There were voices who warned against military intervention back in 2003. Those like Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and others saw the impending war for what it was. They campaigned against it. Much of what they predicted back then has since come to pass. Corbyn is trying to warn us again, but some just won’t listen.

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The terror related issues we have faced in the last 15 years stem entirely from our failed interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. These disastrous conflicts have created chaos and turmoil in the regions affected. They have become hotbeds of hatred and resentment towards the west, out of which global terrorist organisations have emerged.

So here we stand once again facing the prospect of mission creep and a terrible conflict that could and should be avoided. It is a crisis sewn by the leaders of the ‘free world’, however it is all of us who will reap their grim harvest. They have failed to learn from the mistakes of the past. Instead they seem desperate to repeat them. This time their target is Syria.

Of course their pretext is the same as it was back in 2003. They are in reactionary mode and don’t seem capable of seeing the bigger picture. The atrocities visited upon innocent civilians in Paris are being used to convince a terrified public to support yet another military intervention. One that will only add to the suffering of innocent people in that country, while increasing the threat to us all.

Schools are already being bombed in Syria. Countless civilians are being slaughtered by US and Russian raids. This on top of the slaughter of the civil war. Millions have fled already, seeking refuge in the west. These victims of war are caught in the middle of an insane nightmare. They have literally nowhere to go.

Civil war, bombing and terror has already made their country uninhabitable. They flee to Europe only to find they are not welcome because of the acts of the very terrorists they are running from, who in turn have been created by western intervention in their region. Now those same western forces want to interfere again.

Round and round it goes. Where will it stop? Nobody knows.

The politics this time round is actually even more confusing than it was in 2003. Dennis Skinner, the veteran Labour MP summed it up in the House of Commons with typical directness. His analysis though, is no less insightful for it.

“Isn’t it essential in any prelude to a war to be sure of your allies and to be sure of the objectives. Isn’t it a fact that Turkey has been buying oil from ISIL; they used Turkey’s trucks to store it; they’ve been bombing the Kurds and the Kurds have been fighting ISIL; they shot down a Russian jet even though Russia is wanting to fight ISIL. He has got an objective to get rid of Assad, a Russian ally, has got the opposite objective. What a crazy war! Enemies to the right of us, enemies to the left of it. Keep out!”

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Why are politicians, including some members of the opposition, so blind to all of this? Why are they willing to kill and maim ordinary civilians including women and children in pursuit of a previously failed strategy? There is even talk of boots on the ground, but where would they be deployed? In Syria? Would this make the UK, France, Germany, Belgium safer? It’s far more likely that the threat level closer to home would rise.

In reality this is a different kind of conflict than any we have ever faced in the past. It requires a very different response. The enemy is one we have never before encountered. Yes they represent an abhorrent ideology – but you can’t bomb ideas? In fact bombing only strengthens the terrorists resolve and allows them to justify more attacks.

After all their stated aim is to provoke an apocalyptic war with the ‘crusaders’ in the west. Why does Cameron and others want to walk gleefully into their trap? Even the Tory dominated defence select committee has  called the Prime Minister’s strategy incoherent. Why do some on opposition benches seem hell-bent on war?

Others more qualified than me will have to answer these questions, but it strikes me as the politics of despair. It is a feeble minded response that betrays a lack of any real understanding of the situation, its causes and consequences and demonstrates no ability to imagine an alternative solution.

If our leaders cannot see any of this, then it is no wonder that the general public are equally despairing. They at least have an excuse. After all anyone who stands up and questions the sanity of bombing is branded insane and treacherous. Those, like the leader of the opposition, who suggest a political settlement in the Syrian civil war would be a good starting point, are deliberately misrepresented in the media.

There have been clear attempts to suggest that Corbyn is seeking negotiations with ISIS. Cameron even told the commons they were a “threat that could not be negotiated away”. I have heard the accusation repeated by friends numerous times. This is a deliberate tactic on the part if those who support war. It must be countered.

Nobody is suggesting negotiations with the terrorist group. All are agreed they are a terrible, barbaric organisation. The only issue is how to deal with the threat they pose. Jeremy Corbyn is simply pointing out that a political solution to the Syrian civil war is possible. This would then enable a coherent strategy to be developed to defeat ISIS led by people in the region.

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The misrepresentation of Corbyn’s position is a problem. However, there is another fundamental issue at stake here. If we are moving to a democracy in which the opposition must slavishly go along with the prevailing political mood, avoid any dissent for fear of ridicule and demonisation, then we are entering very dangerous territory.

It is the opposition’s job to hold the government to account. To offer an alternative perspective. This is their duty. Yes there are times, in cases of national emergency, when the government and their opponents must come together. However, the decision to go to war is a grave one and deserves careful consideration of all the alternatives before we enter any conflict. It requires serious debate. The lives of millions depend on it, now and in the future.

Somebody has to make the case for breaking the deadly cycle of war, terror and yet more war. Yes this will involve a long term strategy and the issues run deep and are at times unfathomably complex. However we have no choice. If we want a better world for our children and grandchildren, then we must do the hard work now.

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Bombing may provide a transient and illusory sense of security. Smart bombs may well take out a key militant here or there. However as long as the underlying causes of the crisis remain, there will always be another equally happy to fill their boots. In the meantime tens of thousands of innocents will perish. It must stop.

We in the west must offer an alternative to the people of the middle east. Our leaders have to reject the failed strategies of the past and embrace a new way. One based on peace and security. Of equality and justice. We must listen as well as speak.

We don’t have all the answers. At times we don’t even know what questions to ask, but we are surely united by a shared desire for a peaceful life free from terror and war. This is also what the majority of Syrians want. Let’s not subject ourselves or them to the politics of despair any more.

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