Britain - Bombing the Middle East can only feed terrorism

Winter 2015

As this issue of our journal goes to press, Cameron is trying to put together a substantial enough majority in the Commons to back up his long-standing ambition to expand the RAF's bombing mission from Iraq to Syria.

After his humiliating defeat in parliament over this issue, back in August 2013, Cameron had long been waiting for a pretext to try again. But he didn't want to risk another snub. Nor did he want the vote to be too narrow. Such a controversial policy had to be backed by a broad cross-party majority - involving at least a large section of MPs from the two main parties - so as to ensure that the Tories wouldn't take the blame later for the unforeseeable consequences it may have.

So, predictably, with obscene opportunism, Cameron seized on the emotional response to the killing of 129 people and the wounding of another 300 in the Paris terrorist attacks, on Friday 13th November, to announce his intention to go ahead with a new vote on the issue. And the media obligingly offered him its help with a flurry of hysterical headlines and round-the-clock coverage of the aftermath of the attacks in France and Belgium - complete with the gruesome scenes of the raids organised by French anti-terrorist commandos against some of the suspects, right in the middle of a Paris suburb. Everything was done to ensure that the British public would be terrified by the possibility of being targeted by a similar terrorist attack at some point in the future.

Significantly, neither the 45 dead and 239 injured in the November 12th terrorist attack against a busy shopping district of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, nor the 224 Russian passengers who died after a bomb crashed their plane over the Sinai, on 31st October, were given such coverage by the media. But then, the Beirut attack was just the latest in a long series affecting this Middle Eastern country and the Russian aircraft was... just a Russian aircraft! For the British politicians and media, these victims apparently didn't deserve much of an epitaph - not any more than those of the far more frequent terrorist attacks which plague the supposedly "safe" areas of Iraq controlled by Baghdad's western-backed government! By contrast, of course, a terrorist attack in France, a rich European country which is comparable to Britain in most respects, was far more likely to shock the British public and, by the same token, to provide Cameron with the excuse he needed for his military plans.

Against the backdrop of this frantic media-driven campaign, Cameron's argument in support of bombing Syria is two-fold. First, the Paris attacks could just as well have happened in Britain since, according to him: "In the last 12 months, police and security services have disrupted no fewer than 7 plots. All were either linked to ISIS or inspired by ISIS' propaganda" - although no evidence is provided to back up this claim. And second, "it is wrong for the UK to sub-contract its security to other countries". The aim of expanding Britain's bombing to Syria is, therefore, "to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS, including through Coalition military and other actions" and to "help restore peace and stability to the whole country". Such is the gist of the 36-page memorandum which was handed out to MPs in order to win their votes for the air strikes.

How convincing these arguments will be to MPs - including with some of Cameron's own party who've always been opposed to another British military adventure in the Middle East - remains to be seen.

At the time of writing, the SNP, the 3rd largest party in the Commons had still to decide on a collective decision, but the odds were that it would oppose the air strikes.

However, after facing bitter recrimination from within his party, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had finally announced that he would allow his MPs to have a "free vote". Since only a minority are likely to have the guts to swim against the stream by opposing the air strikes, Cameron will probably get what he wants.

Not in our name!

Predictably, Cameron is trying to make the most of the horrifying character of the Paris attacks. He would!

And this is all the easier as they were designed to cause maximum fear among the population as a whole. By targeting a football stadium, a packed concert hall and busy restaurants, the attackers wanted to kill as many ordinary people as they possibly could.

It should go without saying that our solidarity is with the victims of these attacks and that, for us, revolutionary communists, nothing can possibly justify such a massacre. Its only object was to terrorise the French population. Whether it was, as the French authorities now claim, actually masterminded, or just inspired, by ISIS, or whether it was conceived by a group of isolated individuals, as an act of retribution against the French government's bombings of Iraq and Syria, makes no difference.

By adopting the very same terrorist methods that they claim to be fighting, the attackers demonstrated that, for them, the population is nothing but cannon fodder - and, in fact, that they are in no way different from the western governments and armies which have been causing such a bloody havoc for decades in the Middle East.

This is why, as far as we are concerned, the Paris terrorists - and all those who choose to resort to such methods in whatever shape or form and under whatever pretext - are enemies of the working class.

But this does not mean that the working class should go along with Cameron's militarist policy, under the pretext of "defeating ISIS". Responding to ISIS' terrorist methods by dropping bombs over Syria or Iraq, is just another form of terrorism, perpetrated against the population of countries which have already suffered far too much! As if the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing the war zones of Syria and Iraq into Europe didn't show that things have gone far beyond what can be tolerated by the people of these countries! The last thing they need is more bombings, which would necessarily mean more killings and more destruction!

Nor should the working class go along with the so-called "tightening up" of surveillance in Britain, announced by Cameron, under the pretext of pre-empting terrorist activities. As if creating a climate of suspicion against "foreigners" or anyone who happens to have the "wrong" skin colour, for that matter, could achieve anything - except to generate even more racism and xenophobia in this country, where these dangerous prejudices are already rife!

No, workers should not allow Cameron and his government to use the emotion and fear created by the Paris terrorist attacks as a means of blackmailing them into lining up behind his "ISIS must be defeated" policy - because it is not their interests that Cameron is defending here, it is the interests of British capital. And these vested interests have already caused far too much damage to be allowed to cause more. And certainly not in name of the working class!

Cameron's untold agenda

In the preamble of his Defence Review, published this November, Osborne wrote that "the threat from Islamist terrorist groups to the UK, including to British nationals and interests overseas, has increased". The key words here are "British interests overseas" - i.e. British capital's profits.

Indeed, as the distant possibility of a political settlement emerges through the Vienna conference process, under the auspices of the US, Russia and the EU, and with the involvement of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China and a host of minor regional participants, the last thing that Cameron wants is for his government to be left on the sidelines without having a say in the final deal, just because the British army is not part of the coalition.

If this happened, what would be the chances of British companies benefiting from the juicy postwar reconstruction contracts and how would British banks be able to compete with their US and European rivals? This is one major reason for Cameron to want to go to war in Syria - even if a political settlement still remains a distant prospect.

But there is another reason which was illustrated by Osborne's "surprise announcements" (according to the newspapers) in his Defence Review. They include a huge increase in the expected cost of replacing 4 Trident submarines - by £21bn. Current army expenditure plans already include two aircraft carriers at a total estimated cost of £12bn. What is new, is that they will be equipped with 28 F-35 aircraft, at a cost of £100m each. In addition, the military's existing £166bn 10-year equipment project is being topped up by £12bn.

In other words, Mr "Austerity" George Osborne has suddenly discovered he had lots of money to spare, in order to offer some sophisticated hardware to the army. Oh, but there's a war going on, isn't there? The "war on terror", of course! And surely this means that the army should be spared any cut (in fact, its headcount won't be reduced, contrary to earlier plans) and that it should be offered even more exorbitantly expensive death machines.

Of course, Osborne would have some difficulties in explaining how the Trident nuclear system or these two aircraft carriers (which won't be in operation before 2030, apparently) can possibly be justified by today's fight against terrorism. But never mind. Probably no-one will ask. And, anyway, what really matter is not that it is of any use to anyone. What matters is that Britain's big shareholders will gain a pretty penny out of it! And that's another "good" reason for Cameron to want to go to war in Syria.

The monsters of the imperialist order

That being said, of course, one can only be horrified by the barbaric methods used by ISIS and the many Islamic militias operating in Syria and Iraq. Their rule is the worst form of dictatorship. Their thugs subject the local populations to systematic racketeering and to barbaric laws borrowed from a distant past; they enslave women and kill all those who object to their ferocious methods. They are criminals.

Likewise, one can only be horrified by the random killings in Paris where so many people died and were injured - thereby becoming, as we are told now, casualties in a war in which they never had any stake, let alone any say.

And, of course, no-one wants these terror attacks to carry on. So, it is only natural to ask what can be done to stop these horrors. Cameron's and Obama's "war on terror" is supposed to do just that. But can it? And is it even meant for that?

But one has to remember the lessons of the past. ISIS did not come out of nowhere, nor did the numerous Taliban factions in Afghanistan, nor the countless militias which are waging an on-going territorial war in Libya. All these terrorist militias - and many others - have been, one way or another, by-products of the "war on terror" launched by the US, with Britain's support, after 9/11.

Indeed, today, 14 years after the invasion of Afghanistan, this country has the world's highest rate of terrorist attacks. Whole regions remain outside the control of the central government, in Kabul. What's more, the Afghan war has long overspilled into Pakistan. As a result, for over a decade, the population living along the border between the two countries has been caught in the cross-fire between Islamic militias which are trying to impose their rule on them and the Pakistani army, backed up by US drones, which are trying to stop them.

And what about Libya? Here, in Britain, Gaddafi's regime had been branded "terrorist" long before the launch of the "war on terror". The official reason was the enquiry into the bombing of a passenger aircraft over Lockerbie, which blamed Libya for it, even though conspicuous gaps had been found in this enquiry. In reality, it wasn't the fact that Gadafi was a dictator which bothered the West - and even less the fact that he was a so-called "terrorist". Rather, the western powers - especially Britain - resented the fact that Gaddafi had been the first Arab leader to nationalise his country's oil industry, which was partly owned by BP. Gaddafi had just been too "independent" to their liking.

Nevertheless it wasn't until 2011 and his repression of the so-called "Arab Spring" in Libya, that western powers felt they could justify getting rid of Gaddafi, on the grounds that he was bombing his own people. So, the American and European air forces took over and bombed Gaddafi's regime into the ground, together with a large number of ordinary Libyans.

The result can be seen today. Gaddafi and most of his ruling clique were murdered. But they were replaced by a host of rival Islamic militias, with each one carving up part of the country for its own benefit. So much so that, today, there are two officially-recognised rival governments in Libya and several self-proclaimed autonomous regions which do not recognise their authority. In the middle of all that, the population barely survives - or, at least tries to - with many trying to escape towards Europe, for lack of any better option. Meanwhile, the decomposition of the Libyan regime has spilt over the whole region, providing a huge source of weapons to dozens of Islamic and ethnic militias operating in northern and Sub-Saharan Africa.

ISIS, born out of the Iraq war

Of course, of all the crazy military ventures of the "war on terror", the most crazy and the most catastrophic, was the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has a direct link with the emergence of ISIS.

No-one should forget how it was justified - on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had "weapons of mass destruction" and links with al-Qaeda. All that was duly documented by Blair and his accomplice Bush. In reality, as many people already suspected at the time and as has been conclusively proved since, it was all about the domination of the western oil multinationals over the region. Blair and Bush were lying and they both got away with it.

But the Iraqi population did not. Not only did it suffer massive destruction and loss of life for several generations, but it has been at the receiving end of a civil war, ever since the US-British occupation authorities made the deliberate choice of playing the Shia religious parties against the Sunni minority - for the sake of shoring up the occupation.

This civil war produced a host of rival militias, formed by aspiring warlords who sought to capitalise on the discontent created among the Sunni minority by the pro-Shia bias of the religious parties propped up in government by the western authorities.

For these militias, religion or sectarianism was not an end in itself, it was a means to and end. Since the sectarian division between Sunni and Shia was the only justification for them to bid for political power against the Shia parties, these aspiring warlords claimed to be the only legitimate representatives of Sunni Islam. And since they were being sidelined both by the occupation authorities and by the Shia parties, they shifted to a more radical version of Sunni Islam, in the name of organising the resistance against the western "infidels" and Shia "heretics".

Within a few years, however, most of these Sunni radical groups were forced to flee Iraq and took refuge in Syria - among them was ISIS. Once there, they helped to revive the local Islamic groups which had been decimated by Assad's repression. When the Arab Spring occurred, in 2011, fairly large radical Islamic groups had been reconstituted, with both Iraqi and Syrian members, which played a significant role in the protests. By that time, they were already receiving funds and support from several traditional western allies among the Gulf countries. In particular, leading Syrian Islamic preachers were making inflammatory speeches, whipping up hatred against Syria's religious minorities, on the waves of a radio station based in Saudi Arabia.

A proxy civil war

However, unlike what happened in the other Arab countries, the Syrian regime showed no sign of weakening. Although also a dictatorship, this regime turned out to be more solid than the western governments had expected.

They would have liked to see regime change in Syria as well, if only because of Assad's long-standing links with Russia (which still has a naval base in Syria) but also because of his friendly relations with Iran. However, Syria was far too close to the Palestinian powder-keg to even consider bombing the regime into the ground, as had been done in Libya.

So, instead, the western leaders turned a blind eye to the funding and arming of anti-Assad Islamic militias by their regional allies. That's of course - assuming they did not encourage or even initiate it. Short of being able to enforce regime change themselves, the western governments hoped that a civil war would eventually do the trick. As to the bloody cost of this policy to the Syrian population, they could not care less!

This turned Syria into a battleground, not just between the pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces, but also between the aspiring regional powers which all wanted a share of the Syrian cake. To ensure that they would get something out of a post-Assad political settlement, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and a few others, made sure that they were represented in the civil war by one militia or another. This resulted in a mushrooming of rival militias, out of which ISIS eventually emerged as an independent militia, which proceeded to re-enter Iraq in 2014, using the strongholds it had already established in northern Syria as a logistical rear base.

From then onwards, while trying to expand its presence in Syria, ISIS has marched into the Sunni-dominated western and north-western parts of Iraq, taking over entire regions, without meeting much resistance - although it has lately been evicted from some of these positions by the Kurdish militias. And since 2014, its leaders have tried to consolidate their positions, hoping that, at some point, the discredit of the Baghdad government will allow them to step into the vacuum.

This is, therefore, what ISIS is really about - a power-hungry militia, fighting with other, rival militias to establish its own dictatorship. The main difference between ISIS and the many western-backed dictatorships of the region is that, unlike these established dictatorships which tend to conceal their crimes behind closed doors - as Afghanistan does with its stoning of women or Saudi Arabia with its beheadings - ISIS uses them as propaganda weapons on social media, both to give a sense of its determination and radicalism among potential recruits and to maximise the fear it generates among the population, in the Middle East as well as in the rich countries.

The "war on terror" is part of the problem

The whole experience of 14 years of "war on error" shows that, instead of reducing - let alone "defeating" - terrorism, it has only managed to produce more and more terrorists.

Indeed, the number of casualties in terrorist attacks has never stopped rising since 9/11. And it is still rising. Every single North African and Middle Eastern country has been affected over the past year. But in some countries, terrorism has become part of day-to-day life. So, since the beginning of the year, every single week has claimed the lives of 105 civilians in Afghanistan, 135 in Iraq and 500 in Syria. To these figures should be added the 150 weekly victims murdered by the Nigerian militia Boko Haram which is and indirect by-product of the bombing of Libya.

There is a logic to all of this: the more the rich countries carry out military aggression against the poor countries, under whatever pretext and in whatever shape or form, the more casualties and destruction they cause to these countries, and the more they push vengeful youth into the arms of whoever appears to be fighting their imperialist world order - including the most blood-thirsty militias, such as ISIS.

So, one thing is certain: whatever Cameron may claim, ISIS will not be defeated by dropping more bombs over Syria - nor by sending troops there, contrary to the claims of some other British politicians, like Ken Livingstonem. Or to put it differently, using either of these methods will only result in producing dozens of ISIS siblings, all more brutal and monstrous than ISIS itself, not just in Syria, but in many other parts of the world.

tThe fact is that the rich countries' governments are incapable of protecting the population against terrorism - quite simply because they cannot be both part of the problem and part of the solution. It is their "war on terror", in other words, their attempts at protecting the stability of their world system of oppression, which have produced the Talibans, al Qaedas, ISIS and all the other similar monsters which now exist in many poor countries - and is bound to produce even more in the future.

But, at the same time, it is the poverty, injustice and violence of their capitalist order which makes it chronically unstable. And no-one will ever be immune to the built-in violence of this mad capitalist system until it is replaced by a social organisation which is designed to cater for the needs of all.

30 November 2015