On Wednesday 2 December (after we go to press) the House of Commons will vote on proposals to extend UK air strikes to Syria. As Jeremy Corbyn has given Labour MPs a free vote, Cameron is likely to have a majority for extending the bombing.
The government says the renewed military campaign, now including UK, US, France, Turkey and the Gulf States, will be aimed at pushing back Daesh (Islamic State). But it is unlikely to make a decisive impact on Daesh’s position. It is more likely to perpetuate the current stalemate between all the military-political forces in Syria. That is, in fact, the preferred option of the military-political alliance the UK is joining. They want containment of the conflict until a deal on the future of Syria can be agreed.
At the very best the bombing may push back Daesh... in favour of some other Sunni-sectarian Islamist militia. 14 years of US bombing in Afghanistan have left the Taliban and jihadi-terrorism more widely stronger, not weaker, than at the end of 2001.
Cameron’s stance is political, not humanitarian. This is not an attempt to secure security for the ordinary people affected by Daesh’s recent atrocities in Paris or Beirut or over Sinai. It will not create peace in Syria or stem to the flow of refugees fleeing that country. There is no plan to destroy Daesh or end the Syrian civil war.
Cameron wants to look like a statesman in the eyes of the UK’s allies, and have a seat in US world-policy circles.
Meanwhile the Russian state continues to pursue its own political aims, bombing targets in Syria that are of most threat to the Assad regime. That regime has killed and displaced more people in Syria than any other single force fighting there. The primary target of Russian bombing is groups under the “Free Syrian Army”, the same forces which the US, France et al now refer to.
David Cameron claims there are 70,000 FSA fighters in Syria ready to be mobilised in a fight against Daesh. In fact the FSA is only an umbrella term for various forms of political Islamist, from relatively moderate to more hard line. Their main concern is to fight Assad, not Daesh. They are often intensely Sunni-sectarian. They offer no hope of a progressive outcome. Socialists cannot support them and, in fact, the US and UK and France have no plans to endorse them either.
Corbyn’s decision to allow Labour MPs to have a free vote is a big political mistake and will neither heal the deep divisions in the Parliamentary Labour Party nor close the gulf between Labour members, who are mostly against bombing in Syria, and the PLP. In fact it will galvanise Corbyn’s enemies.
We support Jeremy Corbyn and others in the Labour Party and labour movement in their opposition to the bombing and regret they haven’t been strong enough to make the Labour MPs stick by the Labour conference decision against bombing.
In doing so we in no way follow the pro-Assad and phoney anti-imperialist line of the Stop the War Coalition, who have continually refused to condemn the murderous regime of Assad. That regime has killed and displaced millions of people within Syria and caused millions more to flee the country. Our opposition to Western bombing endorses neither Assad nor his allies in Lebanon, Russia and Iran.
The Syrian Solidarity Campaign has rightly criticised the Stop the War Coalition saying, “If Stop the War’s slogan ‘Don’t bomb Syria’ is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.
“If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.”
Unfortunately the SSC downplay the number of people killed by Daesh and other Islamist forces. Mass graves have been found in the wake of Daesh. They may not have killed hundreds of thousands, as Assad has, but they have butchered many more than we yet know about.
We reject the notion that Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in France or against Russia, are “blowback” against military action.
Daesh’s actions are not rooted in a knee-jerk response to western imperialism. Daesh has its own interpretation of and programme for the world. It is a far right political-religious movement, and we are fundamentally opposed to it, just as we are to every other far right and fascistic movement. It is in fact Eurocentric to characterise the actions of Daesh in Paris, Beirut and Sinai as just reactions to the foreign policy of the European powers or the USA.
We do not oppose the bombing of Syria because it will make people in “Britain less safe” (i.e. “provoke” Daesh into further atrocities as many on the left we argue), but because the bombing is fundamentally not aimed towards an end to the ongoing and vicious sectarian conflict, and will not bring that end closer. It will serve only to keep the UK, France, and the USA “in the game” — a bloody and reactionary game.
Solidarity with the Kurds!
After the Gulf states, the US and UK’s strongest ally in the region is Turkey.
Turkey has the deepest involvement with some of the anti-Assad forces, including the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh itself. Much of Daesh's oil is transported out of Syria via Turkey.
Turkey is also engaged in fighting the force most able to push back Daesh and Assad in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria — the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). These Kurdish forces represent a predominantly secular and largely non-sectarian force in the bloodbath of Syria.
While the Kurds have come under sustained attack from Daesh, Turkey has intervened directly against the Kurds, including attacking YPG supporters and affiliates in Northern Iraq, closing the border to Kurds wishing to join the fighting, repressing Kurdish activists within Turkey.
The UK government’s response to Turkey, its NATO ally, has been to tolerate repression.
The FSA has also taken an Arab chauvinist position against the Kurds, for example excluding them from negotiation.
While not endorsing the politics of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK, the group behind the YPG), we unequivocally back the right of the Kurds to military aid and assistance including their demand for arms.
• They should be able to accept military aid from wherever it can be obtained in order to secure their fight against Daesh, Assad and where necessary the Turkish state.
• The PKK should be removed from the EU and US lists of terrorist organisations.
• If the Kurds demand a “no-fly”, or more accurately a “no-bombing” zone, in order to improve their military position, — an option which is unlikely to be included in the current plans of major imperialist powers, as long as Turkey is hostile to the Kurds — we should not oppose this as we would big-power bombing.