Hands off the middle east!

15 October 2015

Whether Cameron will seek the powers needed to send the RAF to bomb Syria is no longer a question of "if" - only a question of "when". What kept him from getting the Commons to vote on the issue so far, was only the fact that 30 or so MPs of his own party were likely to vote against. But now, the balance of forces may change, unexpectedly thanks to Labour's leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet last July, in the run-up to the Labour leadership election, Corbyn's stance had been unambiguous: "Two years ago I voted against bombing Syria when the enemy was the Assad government. I oppose bombing Syria when ISIL is the target for the very same reason - it will be the innocent Syrians who will suffer - exacerbating the refugee crisis. We need to cut off the supply of money and arms that is flowing to ISIL, some, from our supposed allies in the region."

However, last week, the same Corbyn gave his backing to a plan which would involve the RAF bombing its way over Syria to create "safe zones... to shelter those who have had to flee their homes".

A hostage in his own party?

So what's happened to the arch-pacifist Corbyn? It's certainly not the case that the argument he made against air strikes in July is any less valid today! Rather, it appears that his U-turn was due to a lobby by 50 or so Labour MPs (out of 232!) who let it be known that, come what may, they would defy any instruction from the Labour leadership and vote for air strikes over Syria.

Faced with this rebellion, Corbyn could have stuck to his past anti-war position - which was certainly shared by the vast majority of those who voted for him in the Labour leadership contest. And he could have called on their support to whip these rebel MPs into line.

Whether this would have been successful is another issue. The Labour party was never a democratic party in which MPs could be held to account by the membership - otherwise Blair would never have been able to carry out his anti-working class policies and occupation of Iraq! And the odds are that the "rebel" MPs would have given their votes to Cameron, regardless of Corbyn's position.

But at least, by sticking to his guns, Corbyn would have remained true to the ideas which got him elected to the leadership of his party - something rather unusual among politicians!

Instead, Corbyn seems to have chosen to yield to the pressure of a minority of Labour MPs - and to that of some of his backers among the trade-union leaders, whose position on Syria has never been very clear. And what for? To protect the "unity" of a party whose MPs and leading union bureaucrats are unrepresentative of the membership anyway? Is it worth having Syrian blood on one's hands, for that?

A bloody power game

There is no such thing as a "clean" war or a "targeted bombing". The first victims of such campaigns are always ordinary people. Nor can anyone claim that such bombing would stop ISIL's advance. Two years of bombing by the Assad regime and a US-led coalition - and now by Russia - have failed. They just caused more casualties and damage in an already devastated country.

As to the "humanitarian" packaging of this new military venture, we've heard it all before. It is pure hypocrisy, to divert attention from Cameron's failure to do anything to help Syrian refugees.

Besides, who can forget, for instance, how Libya was bombed on such "humanitarian" grounds by western forces - only to be handed over to rival armed Islamic militias which turned the country into a war zone. When were the interests of the Libyan population ever taken into account?

But what makes the claim that the western powers could do anything to fight off the threat of ISIL even more ludicrous, is the role they played in propping it up in the first place. First, because ISIL came to life as a consequence of the occupation of Iraq. And second, because it was used as a pawn by the western powers and its regional allies, in particular Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to weaken Assad's regime in Syria, which was considered too strong and too close to both Iran and Russia.

Today, who knows who's using whom, in the Middle East? While the US-led coalition is bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria, in Turkey - a close US ally - the regime uses local ISIL supporters to annihilate its opponents: on October 10th, in Ankara, 100 died and 500 were injured by a terrorist attack, during a demonstration called by the trade unions and left organisations against the regime's war in Kurdistan.

It is in the interest of the working class of this country to oppose these power games on the backs of the population.