It’s worth considering that in the past few years President Bashar al-Assad’s Government has allegedly killed over 100,000 people in Syria, amongst them were many civilians, including women and children, so we need to ask why, exactly, would allegedly using chemical weapons on 1,300 people suddenly be much more of an issue and a matter of national interest for America, Britain and France?
My own view of the situation is that aggressive intervention is an absurd and incoherent solution. We cannot bomb people into democracy or shoot them into observing human rights. Punishing a dictator for killing his own people by simply killing more of his own people seems beyond cruel. The gesture of war will not punish the guilty, such as members of the tyrannical Assad regime: it will simply kill ordinary people and their children, topple buildings and cause injuries and hardship to the innocent. It seems to me to be a spectacularly pointless and peculiarly brutal proposal.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the public is quite rightly skeptical that employment of aerial bombardment is a cure-all for the world’s ills, after hard-learned lessons from Iraq, and our various other interventions, dressed up as “humanitarian aid”.
Of course it didn’t take much digging to find that there are some vested interests in oil and gas on Syrian territory. There is profit to be made by a local subsidiary of the New York-listed company, Genie Energy – which is advised by former vice president Dick Cheney, and shareholders include Rupert Murdoch and Jacob Rothschild. Israel has granted the US company the first license and it will now have exclusive rights to explore a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights for oil and gas, John Reed of the Financial Times reports.
The Golan Heights – a disputed geopolitical area, is comprised of a two-thirds of land that was seized violently by Israel in the 60s in the Six-Day War, (and this is not internationally recognised as Israeli territory, it remains disputed, but Israel effectively annexed it in 1981), and the remaining third lies in Syria’s domain.
I visited the Golen Heights some years ago, and had a hairy moment or two on land which was peppered with Syrian mines, trapped there between snipers, at the border of the Israeli-claimed territory. Discarded shells and rockets littered the landscape, which had become strange and ugly monuments to human conflict. Yet we must never despair of human nature. Man’s nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love, according to Ghandi.
But not so easily under such profiteering, greedy and corrupt governments.
Israel’s administration of the area – which is still not recognised by international law – has been reasonably peaceful in recent years, until the Syrian civil war broke out 23 months ago.
“This action is mostly political – it’s an attempt to deepen Israeli commitment to the occupied Golan Heights”, Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi told FT.
“The timing is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is dealing with violence and chaos and is not free to deal with this problem”.
Earlier this month it was reported that Israel is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to 10 miles from Golan into Syria to secure the 47-mile border against the threat of Islamic radicals in the area.
Both President Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have mentioned Israel’s “needs” as one justification for an attack on Syria.
The Guardian reports that three months ago, Iraq gave the green light for the signing of a framework agreement for construction of pipelines to transport natural gas from Iran’s South Pars field – which it shares with Qatar – across Iraq, to Syria.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the pipelines was signed in July last year – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – but the negotiations go back further to 2010. The pipeline, which could be extended to Lebanon and Europe, would potentially solidify Iran’s position as a formidable global player.
The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan is a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans for a countervailing pipeline running from Qatar’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, also with a view to supply European markets.
The difference is that the pipeline would bypass Russia.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have received covert support from Washington in the funneling of arms to the most virulent Islamist elements of the rebel movement, while Russia and Iran have supplied arms to Assad.
And of course Israel has a direct interest in countering the Iran-brokered pipeline. In 2003, just a month after the commencement of the Iraq War, US and Israeli Government sources told the Guardian of plans to “build a pipeline to siphon oil from newly conquered Iraq to Israel” bypassing Syria. The conflict therefore and the future of Syria continues to be at the mercy of rival foreign geopolitical interests in dominating the energy corridors of the Middle East and North Africa.
And let’s consider who sold weapons of mass destruction to unstable middle eastern countries in the first place. It’s emerged recently that Vince Cable and other Ministers are to face questions over a decision to allow export of substances used to make chemical weapons to Syria, only months after the country descended into civil war.
Commenting on the reports, which were first published in the Sunday Mail, Labour’s shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna MP, said: “The chair of the joint intelligence committee confirmed last week that their assessment was that the Syrian regime had used lethal chemical weapons on 14 occasions from 2012. There are, therefore, very serious questions to answer as to why, in January 2012, export licences for chemicals to Syria which could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons were approved”.
Far from being a beacon of human rights, the UK has little legitimacy around the world when it comes to intervening in wars – a fact that parliament eventually recognised in its welcomed vote last Thursday.
Can you see what this is yet? As ever, with any Conservative proposition made in earnest, the money trail always reveals the true motivation behind it.
It is widely accepted that David Cameron has a streak of petty, bullying arrogance which often reveals itself at prime minister’s questions. I was pleased to see this reported in The Guardian: “Now Cameron and his henchmen have been trying to spin his humiliating defeat by parliament over military intervention in Syria into an unedifying character assassination of Ed Miliband. It wasn’t Miliband who attempted to grandstand by bouncing parliament prematurely into attacking Syria”.
The Labour leader hasn’t been responsible for perhaps the most monumentally misjudged British foreign policy in recent times. Cameron began two years ago demanding regime change – which didn’t work. Then he resourced the rebel forces – which failed, too. Then he tried to send arms to the rebels – until cross-party opposition in parliament blocked that: perhaps he forgot the series of protests by MPs resulting in the vote opposing his policy by 114 to one on 11 July on a backbench motion moved by Tories?
The Daily Mirror reports that the UK arm of strategist Lynton Crosby’s lobbying empire represented the Syrian National Council. Cameron stepped up his calls for action – including arming forces trying to oust Bashar al-Assad – after hiring the Australian as his elections adviser last year.
Frank Roy, a member of the Foreign Affairs select committee, said: “We need to know that David Cameron’s crusade has not been inspired by his lobbyist chum. It would be quite wrong if Lynton Crosby was using his position to influence the Prime Minister on such an important foreign policy issue on behalf of a former client.”
Roy’s comments came as it was alleged that Cameron had pushed for a more “robust” response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Gosh.
Authorising the export of chemicals to Syria is simply part of a long trend of support for dangerous technology which undermines this country’s legitimacy when it comes to speaking about human rights. Thatcher’s government sold the components for chemical weapons to Iraq, and Saddam Hussain directed The Al-Anfal campaign – genocide – on the Kurds. The Reagan and Thatcher governments continued to aid Iraq after receiving reports of the use of poison gas on Kurdish civilians.
So Cameron now insists “something must be done” in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. All of a sudden. And the Conservative “liberal interventionists”, who trumpet so loudly their commitment to spreading “democracy” around the globe, are not very happy at this wonderful and long overdue sign of a democratic resurgence in Britain.
Polls showed that just 8% of Britons wanted immediate weapons strikes on Syria, but despite that, the “democracy by bombs” crusaders are condemning the vote as a “black day for democracy”. Oh, such irony. Ah, the Newspeak.
The Murdoch-owned Times wheeled out Tony Blair, the High Priest of “liberal interventionism” to support an attack on Syria earlier this week, but this tactic showed just how laughably out of touch the Times is with public opinion. And Ed Miliband has once and for all, finally drawn a clear and indisputable line underneath the Blair era, anyway. Miliband had already denounced New labour, and distanced himself from Blair earlier this year, in his speech to the the Fabian Society.
Opposition to British involvement in an attack on Syria was led by Miliband, who took a brave and principled stance that resonated strongly with public wishes, too. I’ve seen many say that it felt like we have a democracy again, and the following day there was a sudden rebellion which was widespread, and across the political spectrum, with Cameron’s own ministers voting against him. It wasn’t just the genuine anti-war left who opposed an aggressive strike, but some traditional Conservatives too, with some Conservative-supporting newspapers such as the Daily Express taking a strong line against intervention.
Miliband’s decision to oppose the Prime Minister’s motion on Syria authorising direct British military involvement sparked fury in No 10 and even led to deplorable accusations he was providing “succour” to Assad. Cameron couldn’t keep his fury in check. He called Miliband a “copper-bottomed c*nt” in public.
Miliband said Cameron must now “find other ways” to put pressure on Assad: “There are other routes than military means to actually help the people of Syria,” he said. “I don’t think the Government should wash its hands of this issue”.
“I think all of the focus of the Prime Minister and the Government in the coming days needs to be working with our allies to find other ways to press President Assad, to take action with our allies to put the diplomatic, political and other pressure that needs to be put on the Government there. We need the peace talks to get going. So there are other things the Government should be doing”.
He added that Britain “doesn’t need reckless and impulsive leadership, it needs calm and measured leadership”.
The Murdoch media empire, propagandising for the US-led wars of the last two decades, is now isolated in its obsessive screeching for military action, and the fact that MPs ignored the bellicose pro-“intervention” editorials in Murdoch papers is a clear indication as to just how much they are declining in influence.
Let us not forget that it has been an iron law of politics since most of today’s Cabinet were in kindergarten that you do not “take on” Rupert Murdoch. And that if you were foolhardy enough to try, you would end up fatally wounded.
Ed Miliband did. He has shown he has principles and courage on many occassions, sadly this is very seldom reported and reflected fairly in the media. And Miliband didn’t just take the easy option of calling for specific action targeted at the paper where the hacking scandal began – that would have been a safer way of doing it – but by calling for a whole judicial enquiry. Rupert Murdoch probably thought that Ed would leave it at that. But no, when the leader of the Opposition turned up at the proceedings of that enquiry, he said explicitly that if he were Prime Minister, he would seek to limit the percentage of media that one man could own. Quite properly so.
Then there was the banks. Now many in the Labour party would have preferred him to stick safely to making outraged noises about misconduct. No, he once again called for a wider enquiry. When Cameron accepted that proposition of misconduct, Miliband pushed for one wide enough to cover the whole culture of banking which had led to the crisis – a much bigger threat to the banks. After that, Ed threatened them with separation between their investment (casino) and retail (piggy bank) arms. Each time Miliband had the opportunity to ease off, he went further. These are not the actions of a weak leader.
Some will argue that the banks and the media were both wounded giants: once-powerful interests which had been left limping by the financial crisis and the phone hacking scandal respectively. But Ed Miliband didn’t stop with them. In the last few years he has taken on the energy companies too. Not in a small way either, for example, by threatening to legislate to make sure that they give the elderly their cheapest tariffs (although he has done that too). But by actually threatening to break up the Big Six unless they start giving consumers a better deal. That is not a small threat for a potential Prime Minister to make. I have every faith in this man, as a decent, principled and strong leader of the Labour party and future Prime Minister.
Miliband clearly outlined his view that there needed to be a proper international process at the United Nations that was evidence-led, and as he argued powerfully that we needed the “time and space” to come to a judgement and that we shouldn’t rush headlong into a political timetable that was being driven elsewhere, one or two churlish Tory MPs, including Ministers, regrettably, chose to heckle him with the word “weak”. They wish.
The bullying, truculent and outrageously burlesque reactions of the Conservatives to this forced renewal of British democracy, and the obvious strength of the Opposition leader tells us just how significant this is.
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone