David Cameron is asking MPs to vote to plunge Britain into a maelstrom of competing powers without any apparent co-ordination or plan, says the Stop the War Coalition.
Stop the War believes that David Cameron’s incoherent proposals for action in Syria will do nothing to weaken ISIS but will instead inflame the civil war, deepen the misery of the Syrian people and increase the terrorist risk. We are urging MPs to consider carefully before voting to take Britain into our fourth war in fourteen years.
1) Strategy. David Cameron failed completely to outline a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS. He was unable to explain why British bombing will be any more effective than that which has been conducted by the much larger US forces with their allies over the last 13 months.
The US admit that in that period ISIS has been recruiting steadily and that it has gained territory in Syria. Cameron also failed to explain where ground forces might come from. Kurds will not fight outside of their own territories. As Julian Lewis MP suggested, the estimate of 70,000 “moderate” Free Syrian Army troops appears to have been snatched out of the air. Al Jazeera estimates a figure of half that and reports that FSA forces are fragmented and demoralised. In their view the FSA “has seen its power wane dramatically this year amid widespread desertions.”
2) Legality. Cameron appears to accept that the fact that last week’s UN resolution didn’t have Chapter 7 status means it cannot be used to legitimise foreign attacks on Syria. He falls back on the self-defence argument. This is inapplicable. The right of self-defence applies to a foreign state invasion, not reported attempts at attacks by handfuls of terrorists.
3) Civilian casualties. As before every new war David Cameron tells us that modern weapons have “extraordinary precision” and will cause “minimum collateral damage.” As ever these claims are belied by facts. The available research confirms hundreds of civilians have already been killed by coalition bombs. There are numerous individual reports of deaths caused by bombing, including one recent estimate of twenty killed by coalition raids on a Raqqa suburb. Despite the propaganda, drone attacks lead to high levels of civilian deaths. Recently a leading US general Mike Flynn pointed out that “drone strikes have created more terrorists than they have killed.” Raqqa , which Cameron wants to be at the centre of British attacks, is a city, already half devastated, with a population of 200,000 people.
4) Transition and negotiations. There is a glaring contradiction between Cameron’s claim to be prioritising a “ceasefire” on the one hand and advocating military intervention on the other. Military action will complicate and hinder not hasten existing negotiations. The chaos of civil war is creating the conditions in which ISIS can thrive. A political solution is necessary for people of the region to be able to tackle ISIS. Adding fuel to the flames of that war makes such a solution more distant.
5) Dealing with terrorism. David Cameron failed to answer questions about whether bombing Syria will make terrorist attacks in Britain more likely. The record of our interventions so far has not been good. The fourteen years that encompassed the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the bombing of Libya have seen the spread of jihadi terrorism from small pockets of Central Asia through a massive arc stretching from Lahore to Lagos. Now attacks are spreading to Europe. In the opinion of Eliza Mannigham-Buller, Director General of MI5 during the period of the invasion, Britain’s involvement in Iraq, “increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people … that Islam was under attack.” If Britain embarks on a war against a fourth Muslim country, threat levels will rise.
6) A safer world. The Prime Minister claims that differences between the various forces intervening in Syria are closing, making co-operation easier. This is a fantastic claim impossible to reconcile with the recent shooting down by Turkey of a Russian plane and the subsequent attack on a Russian helicopter by Syrian rebels. David Cameron is asking MPs to vote to plunge Britain into a maelstrom of competing powers centred on Syria without any apparent co-ordination or plan. Russia in particular is apparently attacking the very forces with which Cameron wants us to co-operate.
7) The alternatives. Bombing is not the only available foreign policy. Among the many positive measures that could be taken are isolating ISIS and other jihadi groups by ending arms sales to the most reactionary and authoritarian regimes in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These are countries that sponsor terrorist networks in Syria. We should also pressure Turkey to stop allowing its borders to be used for the supply of arms and fighters into Syria. Crucially Britain and the US should pursue rather than impede peace negotiations.