Four good reasons not to bomb Syria

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Although Tony Blair has not apologised for the Iraq War, he has now recognised the significant role the invasion played in creating Daesh (or ISIS). Nonetheless, he and many British news outlets continue to argue the case for airstrikes in Syria. Apparently, they have not learned anything over the last decade.

Focussing blame on intelligence agencies, Blair has stubbornly refused to accept his own failures. In spite of his disregard for expert advice and ambivalence to popular anti-war sentiment, there has been a small breakthrough: he has now recognised the link between the Iraq war and the rise of Daesh. And with this admission, his previous argument that the invasion would actually reduce jihadism finally vanished.

Why then does David Cameron refuse to learn from the past? Considering that senior Tory MP Julian Lewis has insisted that an extension of British airstrikes into Syria “would be not only pointless, but dangerous”. Canada’s new prime minister, for example, has now promised to withdraw his support for US airstrikes, so why hasn’t Cameron?

Frankie Boyle argues that Cameron simply has a “bombing addiction” and that, instead of having sought rehabilitation after the chaos caused in Libya in 2011, he is “looking to score another hit in Syria”. Whatever the reason for the prime minister’s penchant for war, the fact is that he seems committed to avenging the spectacular 2013 parliamentary defeat of a motion to commence military intervention in Syria. And, with Daesh now being the main target of intervention, he may expect to attract more support.

Backing the Tories’ plans to extend airstrikes into Syria, however, would be a disaster. Here are four good reasons why:

1) History tells us it’s a terrible idea

Why does the misogynistic murdering machine of Daesh actually exist? Well, for an answer to that question, we just need to ask:

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  • Who has spent decades undermining or overthrowing secular progressive movements in the Middle East?
  • Who empowered jihadi forces by funding them in Afghanistan in the 1980s?
  • Who fuelled chaos in Iraq by committing war crimes and supporting corrupt sectarian regimes from 2003 onwards?
  • Who has consistently turned a blind eye to Saudi and Qatari funding of Wahhabi militants throughout the world?
  • Who supports Israel regardless of its regular oppression of Palestinian civilians?
  • And who backed Wahhabi forces in both Libya and Syria after the start of the Arab Spring?

Nicolas J. S. Davies, author of Blood On Our Hands, replies that today’s conflicts in Syria and Iraq are “deeply rooted in US policy”. In other words, the violent interventions and political power games of the USA and its allies in the Middle East are the main culprits of regional chaos. For one example, we just need to look at Iraq. Although Daesh is ideologically Wahhabi (and has been called “a Saudi project” by one senior Qatari official), it has also attracted the support of numerous disenfranchised Sunnis and former Iraqi Ba’athists, who all lost out significantly after 2003.

Extreme actions, then, do not emerge in a vacuum. While indoctrination is key, we need to remember that there are real human beings behind the violence. And they often have a number of justifiable reasons for being angry, which we should seek to understand. For dehumanising these people takes us even further away from peace. By feeding our own hatred, it condemns us to accepting a vicious cycle of military escalation abroad and insecurity at home.

According to Stop the War Coalition’s Lindsey German, the only people who really argue that the solution to the Daesh crisis is even more conflict are simply “those who want to drum up support for more wars” (i.e. the arms industry, the self-interested political establishment, and their corporate media mouthpieces). And we need to ask ourselves if we really trust these people, and if we have ever truly benefited from their warmongering.

2) Western allies in the region don’t want democracy

Citizens rose up in the Arab Spring over four years ago, primarily because they wanted their voices to be heard, and for justice to be served. Surely then, if we genuinely want to end conflict in the region we must advocate democracy. People’s voices must be respected – whether we agree with them or not.

The West’s allies in the Middle East, however, are very far from being champions of peaceful dialogue. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel, to name just a few, have demonstrated their anti-democratic attributes on numerous occasions in the last few years alone. According to the Atlantic Live editor Steve Clemons, for instance, Daesh actually “achieved scale and consequence through Saudi support”.

Meanwhile, in the northern Syrian town of Kobanî, we saw Turkey’s real intentions when Daesh launched a vicious offensive in September 2014. In the months and years preceding the attack, Turkey had blockaded the largely-Kurdish town whilst happily allowing Daesh to receive supplies from across the Turkish border. Their aim: to defeat the progressive democratic revolution of Rojava.

Western regimes, meanwhile, had remained silent for around two years on the constant Wahhabi attacks on Rojava’s revolutionary communities. And this silence was almost certainly a nod to NATO member Turkey, whose government has recently stepped up its attempts to defeat progressive Kurds by any means necessary.

Furthermore, instead of supporting the democratic experience of the Rojava Revolution, which had long been resisting the attacks of the heavily-armed and heavily-funded Daesh, governments in the West enthusiastically backed the corrupt nationalist regime of Iraqi Kurdistan.

US airstrikes in defence of Kobanî in October 2014, meanwhile, were aimed primarily at image protection. After significant media attention from journalists watching on from Turkey, Washington was now trapped. For fear of further criticism, the US government simply couldn’t listen to Turkey and allow the destruction of Rojava any longer.

In spite of a general consensus among experts that compromise and negotiation would eventually be necessary to end the Syrian civil war, the West has continued to back its oppressive regional allies. In addition to Turkey, whose government has sought to protect its own interests in Syria at any cost, Saudi Arabia and Qatar also hate the prospect of a political solution. Hoping to install a proxy Wahhabi regime in the country, says Nicolas Davies, Qatar spent $3bn on the anti-Assad insurgency, the Saudis “paid for weapons shipments”, and the Gulf’s economic elites “paid up to $2,000 per day to hardened mercenaries from the Balkans and elsewhere”.

It is no surprise, then, that author of War No More David Swanson has asserted that one of the best ways to stop the Syrian conflict would be for the West to rein in its allies and “stop shipping weapons into the area”. For if Western governments do not take such action, he insists, Daesh will simply go from strength to strength.

3) Bombs will backfire because Daesh wants Western intervention

By beheading Western citizens, Daesh was essentially asking the West to intervene. Its leaders knew that foreign military operations would simply result in more destruction and civilian deaths, and that resentment and anger would then grow significantly among those still living in the country.

Retired diplomat Oliver Miles reports on how intelligence agencies have long insisted that Western policies of intervention and interference have been “a principal driver in the recruitment” of disenchanted Westerners for Daesh and other jihadi groups in Syria. And by further increasing anti-Western sentiment with more airstrikes, says award-winning journalist Robert Koehler, the door would simply be opened for “the next multi-year military quagmire”.

Intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning agrees, emphasising that Daesh cannot be defeated militarily as it “feeds off the mistakes” of its attackers. Instead, she says, the world should allow the barbarity of the group to “work against them, as it has in the past”. Citizens under the group’s rule, for example, would “eventually lose their faith” in their overlords if the outside world took the high ground and came to a political solution to the conflict in Syria. In other words, the world should just let Daesh implode all by itself.

4) War is more expensive than the true humanitarian alternative

As Oliver Miles insists, a military campaign against Daesh would almost certainly be a lot longer (and more expensive) than expected. There would also be far-reaching consequences, much like those which followed the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

A real humanitarian approach to ending the conflict would be to shun violence and insist on both dialogue and support for the ground forces truly seeking to build a better political system. Win Without War Advocacy Director Stephen Miles agrees, arguing that the best thing the international community could do would be to help to “address the underlying political grievances of local populations”.

In Rojava, there is a strong and democratic mass movement that seeks to give citizens a voice. Elsewhere in Syria, however, there isn’t. And therefore, the best, most realistic way of ensuring civilian voices are respected more is to encourage a political agreement between existing regional and international powers – which are the real actors in the Syrian conflict. Of course, that does not mean we suddenly need to agree with the policies of the Syrian Ba’athists or their neighbouring regimes. But the reality is that arguing about who is more repressive solves very little.

The more sensible and constructive option, then, is to encourage coexistence and compromise, as no foreign government will ever have the legitimacy to make decisions for the Syrian people. And, if we look purely at an economic argument, avoiding military escalation will cost British citizens much less in terms of both the war on Daesh and its repercussions. In other words, the international community needs to set an example by seeking dialogue instead of more violence.

Let’s fight for creation, not destruction

We should not cheerlead for airstrikes in Syria, which would be both destructive and counterproductive, we must stand up for the forces in the region which oppose oppression and chauvinism in all their incarnations. That means, while we should argue the case for a negotiated solution between state powers, we should also recognise that a viable democratic alternative is being built in Rojava.

Yes, Rojavans do not follow the same ideology as Western political elites, asserts human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, but the PKK and its allies in Rojava do “support democracy and secularism” – which are supposedly principles that the West defends. Furthermore, they are “authentic local movements with mass support” which resist Daesh more effectively than any other group. If we genuinely want peace and stability in the Middle East, then we must look to the progressive Kurdish movement.

We should criticise how left-wing Rojavans have been under-equipped and isolated thanks to the blockade imposed upon it by Western allies. And we must also condemn Turkey’s all-out war against the PKK and its attacks on the YPG/YPJ in Rojava. Their socialist ideals may not make them popular among Western elites but, fortunately, we in the West have obtained a voice that makes our rulers sit up and listen when it’s loud enough.

We must assert loud and clear that we do not want more war, and that we oppose Western complicity in Turkey’s assault on progressive Kurds. Also, we must stress that while we want to see Daesh defeated along with all forms of religious, ethnic, and sexual chauvinism, we also want to support hope and innovation rather than despair and destruction. In short, we must demand that our government puts pressure on its allies to negotiate. We must oppose further military escalation in Syria. And we must demand both support and recognition for the bold experiment thriving in Rojava.


If you want your voice to be heard on this issue, please write to your MP or take whatever action you can.


Featured images via EugeneZelenko, Boris Niehaus, Petr Kratochvil, and the Presidency of the Argentine Nation

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