Nearly a month or so ago, Donald Trump botched a military operation that killed hundreds of people in Iraq, including many children. Recently an attack on rebel territory left civilians dead again. And then, in typically headline-grabbing fashion, he attacked the air base of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Guess what got Stop the War Coalition angry?
Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, around half a million people have been murdered and more than half the population displaced by the war. Towns and cities have been turned to rubble, strewn with bodies and carnage. The skies are patrolled by Assad’s air force, the lethal point of his genocidal campaign, backed by ferocious Russian support.
The rebels, a confusing mix of moderates and extremists, have lost ground. Aleppo bled to death and the violence is escalating in Idlib too. Peace talks don’t hold because someone breaks the ceasefire, usually the regime’s force. Civilians have been massacred, tortured, rape, starved to death and now intimidated into submission.
This is Syria. And these are the lengths we are supposed to excuse a society in descending into supposedly to stop armed religious fanatics. The use of chemical weapons by Assad for the second time elicited a different response from the west. Without waiting for consultation, Donald Trump launched an air strike upon the military base of Assad. Soldiers died and no one else. Trump diminishing the means of genocide and chemical weapons being used. Donald Bloody Trump.
And the left are protesting. Not against Russian imperialism. Not against Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But against Trump. Not even, by the way, when he bombed Iraqi children or killed civilians on Syrian rebel lines. That was fine. It was when he bombed the innocent military base of a genocidal regime that the left got its anti-imperialist rage flicked on.
Donald Trump did what Obama and Miliband failed to do in 2013. Then they had seen Assad cross a red line over use of chemical weapons but failed to enforce a punishment. So the red line meant nothing and Assad continued. The Russians joined in when it seemed the rebels were proving too difficult. They massacred Aleppo and at no point – even as Assad broke ceasefires, starved towns, murdered entire towns and thereby radicalised them with a taste for vengeance – did anyone on the left question the Russians on Assad.
In terms of military solutions, ground troops remain off the table for now. But enforcing a no-fly-zone over civilian areas would provide relief to the civilians who are currently besieged. It prevented greater casualties from unfolding Libya during the immediate intervention by NATO. It would roll back Assad’s air force, depleted already if west continue hammering at their bases, and the idea of Russia somehow risking contact with western air forces is slim. It’s the use of air strikes that has given Assad such a dominant grip in this civil war, shelling rebel positions, pummelling them with concussive strikes, demoralising them and strategically weakening them.
Pained as I am to admit it, Trump has done something right.
Assad won’t go easily. The idea of some negotiated political settlement is fanciful rubbish and hugely disrespectful to Syrians, telling them they must essentially accept the superficial political legitimacy of Assad. The dictator has continuously justified his presence and actions on the premise of defeating the Islamists. Many are suspicious that he himself is releasing Islamists militia from prisons, to create a conflict and conceptualise a situation that demands his presence and legitimises his use of force.
But the left, Jeremy Corbyn, The Morning Star and STWC have all opposed this. And it brings into question the moral nature of the anti-imperialist left. Are they really opposed to all foreign interventions or just those done by the west? They have been awfully silent over the actions of Russia, and when pressed, drawn false equivalences between actions of rebels and Russia. They repeatedly warn about Syria becoming worse or becoming like Libya, whilst ignoring that half a million people dead and most of the population displaced is as bad as it gets. As for comparisons to Libya, the casualties in Syria far outweigh the death toll in Libya. That is simply a matter of fact.
Consider the history of likes of Jeremy Corbyn, George Galloway, Lindsay German, John Rees, Chris Nineham, Seumas Milne and others – erasing war crimes of regimes and dictators not affiliated with the west. Western lefties have worryingly throughout the years regularly fawned over Assad. They say it’s because he’s a secularist fighting Islamists who use children as human shields. And yet when secular Israel say they’re fighting Islamists using human shields, then it’s a different story. Fighters in Syria are completely written off as Islamists, rather than people desperate to see Assad pay for his war crimes. Yet the situation in Iraq is supposedly different when Al Qaeda groups are written as freedom fighters. Conveniently where the enemy is the west of course. They have continuously erases the voices of Syrians, from the activists from Syria Solidarity to even the ordinary refugees.
The attitudes shown over Syria, the false contempt and hollow empathy for Syrian lives reveals that what their politics really is muzzled in isn’t a robust strive for peace and justice but a shocking contempt for the West and a soft bigotry of low expectations towards people who aren’t white. Progressive revolutionary Arab movements that rise up against their dictators are discredited by the western left as puppets of the USA if the tyrant they’re seeking to supplant isn’t a USA ally. These people can’t possibly by seeking human rights, democracy, social justice and liberalism. It has to be some sort of American plot as usual. What they’re really saying is, Arabs are too passive to revolt and only white people are mature and intelligent enough for democracy. Could Middle East handle it? Are they ready for it? These lefties will staunchly support a dictator if he displays the slightest streak of communitarianism, evidenced in their gushing love for Gaddafi and Assad.
They say they’re anti-imperialist but they excuse Russia from that. They say they dislike Saudi Arabia on the basis of its human rights record but excuse Iran. They are supposed to be anti-war but are fine with dictators launching wars on locals pushing for democracy. The left in the west has totally abdicated its internationalist values by becoming consumed in its hatred of itself for being western. They will stop action being taken in Syria by pointing to Iraq.
It’s as if successful interventions never happened before Iraq. And it’s painfully clear that the wrong conclusions were drawn from Iraq by the likes of Diane Abbott and Corbyn. They summarised all interventions to be bad rather than the fact that interventions required two things: it needed local consent and support, as self-determination is critical to rebuilding the state and restoring it. Secondly it needed a long term strategy. The latter was missing in both Iraq and Libya. But what separates Iraq from the other two is that there is a popular desire to see Assad go within Syria and Gaddafi go in Libya. At the point when Iraq was invaded the situation was completely different. Yet from the Iraq War we have allowed the anti-imperialist left to twist the moral case for intervening for humanitarian causes.
We must remember that sometimes the price of inaction can be as awful as that of a poor intervention.