British politicians calling for intervention in the Syrian civil war ignore lessons learned from Libya and Iraq and risk a bigger war as a result
Middle East Eye
13 October 2016
It's hard to listen to parliamentary debates on foreign policy without a growing sense of disbelief.
We saw one again this week, this time over the horrific situation in Aleppo. Most politicians suffer a kind of selective amnesia over past interventions. They bemoan the fact that David Cameron lost the vote to bomb Syria back in 2013, and claim that things would be better there now had MPs voted to intervene.
But they ignore the record of such interventions and the scathing criticisms of them from official bodies, including their own parliamentary select committees.
Three separate reports in the past three months have made clear that those interventions did more harm than good, that they have worsened the situation where they took place, and that two of the previous three British prime ministers - Tony Blair and David Cameron - were very much criticised for their role in the campaigning for war.
The Chilcot report over Iraq was the most scathing, but less reported was the foreign affairs committee report on the bombing of Libya in 2011, which started as the imposition of a no-fly zone but rapidly became a war for regime change, with 30,000 killed by bombing and a civil war still raging today.
The decision to intervene in Syria last December has also faced criticism, this time by the defence select committee.
Pass the blame
Little of this is referred to in the debates. Instead when your interventions over the past 15 years have failed, what do you do? Well, blame the organisation which opposed them in the first place.
So Stop the War is berated for not marching. Ann Clwyd MP, a hawk back in 2003, is demanding that two million demonstrate outside the Russian embassy - even though she bitterly opposed those who did march then. Some even claim that Stop the War is culpable over Syria, even though it opposes all bombing and wants peace.
It should not need to be said that Stop the War is not bombing or intervening in the war, it is an anti-war organisation.
Why does the organisation come under such attack? Because Stop the War has called it right over these wars, and is calling it right over Syria.
No one can fail to be moved by the endless war into which the people of Syria are now plunged. But it is precisely because we value human life that we oppose military intervention there. A no-fly zone will escalate the war, not end it, and there will be more civilian casualties not less, just as there were in Libya.
Syria's future for Syrians alone to decide
We did not stop the war in Iraq, but we have helped to shift opinion in this country against further wars. It could be argued that Chilcot would never have happened without an anti-war movement. Jeremy Corbyn's two victories as Labour leader also are in part the result of a strong anti-war and peace movement.
Stop the War's position is clear: we oppose all bombing in Syria, including by the Syrian regime and Russia, but also by the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and other powers intervening there. We call for an end to all outside intervention. All supply of arms should stop.
We do not take a position on the internal politics of Syria, and believe that this is a question for the Syrian people alone.
The attacks on us come in the main from people who do not like our opposition to wars. In every instance, we have been accused of supporting those whom our government opposes. So we have been accused of supporting the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and now Assad and, more specifically, Russia.
For the record, we do not support Russia or any other intervening power. And we regard these attacks on us as the sort of witch hunt that tries to destroy a legitimate criticism of government by saying that we are allied to a foreign power. It is despicable and untrue, and a smokescreen to hide the myriad failings of this 15-year war on terror.
Time to change course
The danger in the Middle East is that we are now seeing great power rivalry played out in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq. This is already causing untold misery for the people of those countries, the growth of terrorism and an instability which can spill into a much bigger regional war.
Those like Jeremy Corbyn who have taken a strong stance against successive governments' wars should be congratulated, not attacked. Those who backed military intervention refuse to honestly account for their actions. Their policies were defeated in parliament three years ago when nearly every Labour MP voted against bombing Syria.
Last year a much bigger minority of Labour MPs voted to bomb not Assad, but the Islamic State (IS) group. The British role in this subsequently has been marginal, and now all the talk is about Assad, not IS.
We live in a very dangerous world. The US presidential election will almost certainly be followed by more calls for military intervention, not less. The attacks on Stop the War cannot be seen in isolation from wider politics, both in the US and here, where Jeremy Corbyn is putting forward a genuinely different foreign policy based on peace not war.
This is not the time for more intervention. It is the time for a recognition of government failures and a commitment to change course.
Unfortunately, with a foreign secretary like Boris Johnson, the Stop the War Coalition will be around for some time to come.
- Lindsey German is convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and co-author of A People's History of London
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